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Geek Gifts 2012: Protocol TurboHawk 3 and Skyline-G RC helicopters

After playing with the Protocol TurboHawk 3 and Skyline-G RC helicopters for a couple of months, Donovan Colbert shares what he does and doesn't like about the toys.

For Christmas, I received two inexpensive consumer-grade remote control (RC) helicopters made by Protocol: the TurboHawk 3, a small, indoor-only IR model, and the Skyline-G, a larger, indoor/outdoor radio frequency model.

Unlike earlier Air Hogs, these RC helicopters offer truly omni-direction flight control. By placing the tail rotor on top of the tail in the same orientation as the main rotors and with the help of a gyroscope, these RC helicopters allow you to change the angle of attack and truly fly forward, backward, turn left or right, hover, ascend, and descend. This can take some getting used to, because you have to constantly adjust altitude and trim while also controlling forward movement, but these controls are still simplified compared to a true hobbyist RC helicopter. With some practice, it is fairly easy to lift off, hover, and maneuver in simple flight patterns.

Check out my photos of the TurboHawk 3 and the Skyline-G in this TechRepublic gallery.

The Skyline-G and the TurboHawk 3 (Photo by Donovan Colbert)

TurboHawk 3

Specifications
  • 6 3/4 x 6 1/2"w. wingspan
  • 6 1/2" body nose to tail
  • 3" body
  • 3 3/4" h.
  • 6 ozs.
  • Price: $45.00 USD list ($29.97 at Amazon.com)

This helicopter looks slick; it has a menacing black plastic canopy with flashing mutli-colored LEDs that fade in and out behind the canopy window. The frame is a combination of aluminum and plastic, and seems better constructed than most toy RC helicopters I've seen in department stores, toy stores, and malls.

The TurboHawk 3 is about the same size as the Air Hogs line of RC toys. The remote signal is infrared, so it is only suitable for indoors flight, and you want to avoid direct sunlight. I've read that a lot of people have had bad luck with this copter breaking and that initial flights were difficult. Perhaps my previous experience with an Air Hogs paid off, because I found this copter very easy to fly from the start. I've also had some pretty wicked crashes and nothing has broken so badly that the copter was left inoperable.

The TurboHawk 3 has two sets of blades that are hinged and attach to the main rotor assembly by tiny screws. Although the blades on my copter have quite a few gouges after repeated flights, they're still providing lift and stability. Spare parts can be ordered from Protocol. Some owners complain that the selection of repair parts is too slim, but for an inexpensive beginner's RC helicopter, I think the manufacturer has the bases covered on the parts that are most likely to break.

The controller has three channels of operation and runs on 6 AA batteries. The heli charges by plugging into a small cable that comes from the remote -- it looks kind of like an old internal CD-ROM PC cable. The plug is very small, and the charging socket on my helicopter was not aligned correctly with the body of the copter. This makes it difficult to charge, and I wonder if the long-term stress is going to cause a failure. It takes about 20 minutes to charge, and you get about 5 minutes of run time per charge. This might not be enough time for your average kid, but 5 minutes seems like a pretty long time to me.

TurboHawk 3 (Photo by Donovan Colbert)

Skyline-G

Specifications
  • 9 3/4" x 9 3/4" wingspan
  • 12" body nose to tail
  • 6" body
  • 6" h.
  • Price: $59.99 at Best Buy

This copter is much larger than the TurboHawk 3. The Skyline-G has an impressive array of LED lights under the canopy and up the length of the aluminum tube tail-frame. The Skyline-G also includes a spare set of rotors, and uses less plastic than the TurboHawk 3. The landing skids on the TurboHawk 3 are plastic, but on the Skyline-G they are metal and include foam training pads to help you make more gentle touch-downs while you're learning to fly. I've heard that the first generation Skyline-P had a lot of quality issues, but that the latest model, the Skyline-G, seems to be a far more durable product.

The Skyline-G is really designed for outdoor use. The Skyline-G has a range of about 100 feet in diameter and a 60 foot ceiling. Because of the weather, I haven't had a chance to test these limits outdoors. I've got a large great room that is about 25x15 with 18' ceilings, and while the smaller copter is easy to navigate all over the house, the Skyline-G feels a little cramped and constrained even in a room that large. The first time I lifted off the copter spun out of control toward my natural brick chimney. My wife, daughter, and I held our breath as I gingerly edged the toy away from what looked like a short maiden flight followed by a return to Best Buy. The Skyline-G feels much more like a serious RC device and less like a kid's toy. The smaller copter has a tighter axis around its rotor, causing it to turn much more rapidly to the slightest input on the control stick. On the smaller copter, it is very difficult to turn the nose a quarter turn while hovering. Most frequently, you go into a wild spin around the axis of your rotor. On the larger Skyline-G, making a 90 degree adjustment to the left or right when hovering is very accurate -- the motion seems almost robotic. In this sense, the larger copter seems more stable and precise. Despite that accuracy, the Skyline-G seems more menacing when in the air. I am comfortable flying the TurboHawk 3 right up to my face, veering off at the last second. When I see the bigger one coming toward me at eye level, the hair on the back of my neck stands up.

This remote is a RF model with a large telescoping metal antenna. It requires 6 AA batteries, but unlike the smaller model, you charge the Skyline with an AC adaptor. There is a small connector on the helicopter that plugs into the AC adapter. After a 60-70 minute charge, you disconnect the cable from the adaptor and plug it into a slot on the motor of the helicopter, and then you are good for approximately 5 minutes of flight. A word of warning: The charger is not a trickle charger. You've got to watch carefully when charging and remove the charger as soon as the battery is full, or you can damage the battery.

Skyline-G (Photo by Donovan Colbert)

What I like about both RC helicopters:

  • The controls are relatively easy to learn.
  • Flight is realistic and a lot of fun to master.
  • The construction seems fairly durable for inexpensive toys.
  • Design and LED lights are really cool.

What I don't like about both RC helicopters:

  • It would be difficult for a child to master the flight controls. Flying requires a lot of multi-tasking.
  • Spare parts may be difficult to obtain.
  • Battery life requires a long recharge for a short flight-time, and the lack of trickle charger introduces the possibility of damaging the battery on the Skyline-G.

Geek gift bottom line

As an executive toy for an adult, either of these copters would rock as a geek gift. But if you're looking for a toy to keep a child entertained for hours at a time, you might want to pass on these RC copters because of the difficulty in flying these devices, as well as the relatively fragile construction and the long charge times and short battery life for both copters.

Geek Gift Score for both Protocol RC helicopters (out of 5)

  • Fun factor: *****
  • Geek factor: ****1/2
  • Value: ****
  • Overall: ****

About

Donovan Colbert has over 16 years of experience in the IT Industry. He's worked in help-desk, enterprise software support, systems administration and engineering, IT management, and is a regular contributor for TechRepublic. Currently, his profession...

6 comments
dcolbert
dcolbert

Not sure why the photographs turned out looking like grainy 256 color GIFs - had some trouble with sending these ones up.My apologies.

HAL 9000
HAL 9000

The next thing you'll need is a Flight Sim which are very good but a word of warning here don't go for one of the Dual Chanel ones get one of the bigger ones something like 6 or 9 Chanel's and use that. You'll find that the Dual Chanel ones are not advanced enough. There is also a lot of Open Source Software available out there that is very good quite often better than what came with the unit new. USB has made this possible and cheap. ;) The Infra Red Remote Control units can be flown in the open but they get a bit flaky and if you are like [b]SWMBO[/b] son you'll need to learn to climb trees to rescue them. The Infra Red Controls don't work at all well when the unit is in a tree. :D As for smoking [b]Don't[/b] try to stop. You work in IT and smoking is a great release. Those people who work in IT that I know who have stopped smoking are considerably poorer as a result because the Shrink Bills are considerably more expensive than smoking [i]and no where near as satisfying.[/i] Also when you stop Smoking you start loosing your hair as you start tearing it out before you start seeing a Shrink to stop you killing the Clients/End Users, you get very frustrated and then the person employing you sends you off to the shrink after you have done something totally off the wall. Then your health starts to suffer as you start to believe what you are told by the shrink. You finally come to [b]Totally Believe[/b] that all End Users are Complete Idiots who can comprehend nothing understand even less and are there to drive you crazy. Smoking is far better for you and your health. I have seen way too many instances of Techs giving up smoking only to suffer extreme problems so I decided a very long time ago not to bother. The Quacks are not there to help you they are there to make money for themselves pure and simple. So if you start to need any of them they will hook you and you'll never escape. Smoking is a great Frustration Reliever and is far better for you than stop smoking and taking large amounts of Pharmacopeias with more serious Health Side Effects. I used to fly Control Line Aircraft when I was much younger but as I was Poor I could never afford Radio Control stuff, however now it's become much cheaper [i]or I just have more money available and it looks affordable.[/i] Even now 4 Stroke Motors are really cheap for the big ones back when I had Control Line stuff you spent hundreds of $ on a 6cc 2 Stroke Motor now you can get a 10cc 4 Stroke for little more than $100.00 and they are super quite and much more powerful than the old 2 Strokes. Even the Radio Gear has got cheaper. Back when I was considerably younger a Good Radio Set used to set you back over 1K and the Batteries where all Special, now Rechargeable batteries are considerably better than the old Ni Cads and the Radio Gear can be got for under $100.00 unless you want the high end Futuba type stuff. You've got to love China far making all this stuff so affordable. :D Col

HAL 9000
HAL 9000

Playing with these Toys is the start of a very slippery slope down to Bankruptcy. Sure it looks like fun and is till you very quickly outgrow the low powered short duration flight times and need something longer. This results in the inevitable run to Fully Featured Radio Control Units that rely on Gas Powered Engines and 30 minute flight times. You then get tired of the slow speed of these units and start drooling over the new generation Jet Engines and being unwilling to think logically you then start to think of True Scale Models that require 4 of these engines. http://www.kingtech-jet.com/ You start thinking that 17 KG of Thrust would be great but then again wouldn't it be better requiring 4 of these with 17 KG of Thrust and a Bigger Model to play with. The Fuel Consumption of these things doesn't bear close examination either as you need a lot of fuel for a decent Flying Time which just means a bigger plane/helicopter. OH and yes the bigger Gas Powered helicopters do have Gas Turbine Engines and you can fly them inverted or worse. :^0 Col

dcolbert
dcolbert

I can absolutely see how this could be a gateway to a much more expensive and destructive long-term habit. I just fly recreationally, man. :) It sounds like you've slipped into the dark and hopeless world of hobbyist radio controlled flight. I hear there is no cure. ;)

HAL 9000
HAL 9000

But Cheap Radio Controlled got the Wife totally hooked. She started out buying [i]Bargains[/i] and it went downhill from there. A couple of Radio Controlled Helicopters then some Electric Air Planes got cheap then some 9 Chanel Radio Gear cheap. What can I say, I do try to discourage here as much as possible. ;) Col

dcolbert
dcolbert

That with my cigarette habit, I had two options. I could quit, or I could get my wife hooked. I'm still trying struggling with quitting. :)

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