Admittedly, we requested a HELO TC Helicopter review unit just to play with the iPad-controlled chopper around the office and annoy coworkers. Judging from their dirty looks, it worked on at least one front. But, is this chopper a high flyer, or should the HELO TC RC Helicopter remain grounded?
BUILD & DESIGN
The twin-rotored, indoor HELO TC helicopter sports a lightweight metal frame with a black polycarbonate body. And while the chopper looked rather feeble when I unboxed it, its design proved resilient. Despite numerous crashes into walls, floors, and a few unfortunately situated co-workers, the HELO TC maintained perfectly intact. The helicopter also features lights, which double as a basic battery gauge and make it quite the eye catcher.
In addition, an iPhone-sized Flight Deck accessory dock uses two hard rubber clips to attach to your iOS device, connecting to its 3.5mm headphone port. This is used to send control signals to the HELO via infared. For helicopter navigation, the volume must be at max and airplane mode must be turned on in order to operate the helicopter, as incoming FaceTime calls and iMessages will disturb flight performance.
The chopper ships with extra blades in case any get damaged as a result of the many crashes. Also, while there is the potential the HELO TC could fly straight at a person’s eye and cause injury, it’s not lethal. To test this, we aimed the gadget repeatedly at Technology Guide editor Grant Hatchimonji, and despite several direct collisions, he sustained no bodily harm.
Once charged up (which took less than an hour over USB), the HELO is ready for flight. In our “testing,” it took a few seconds to gain momentum, but soon the chopper began to rise with a quick thumb swipe of the on-screen throttle. All of the controls come via a free iOS app (iOS 4.0+ compatible); this includes a simple throttle slider for basic control, joystick with trim, an auto-land button and a toggle switch for the chopper’s LED lights. While some may find the joystick difficult to maneuver at first, those with patience and a nimble touch will master the reins quickly. Within the app, a little searching will provide you with flying tips, a joystick/motion control toggle, pitch inversion, on-screen throttle placement and three transmission channels, in case a slew of oncoming HELO TCs are in your airspace. The app also allows users to record, store and playback successful flight plans.
Motion controls are extremely difficult to master, so we stuck with the joystick. There is also an “expert” mode that let’s users unleash the full power of the throttle, which caused our HELO to crash into the 13-foot high celing repeatedly.
Attempting to manuever the chopper through a homemade obstacle course also resulted in the HELO TC smashing into the ceiling and then plummeting quickly to the floor. After a bit of practice we were able to manage a flight time longer than 5 seconds, however getting the HELO to move forward, backward or rotate in the direction of your choosing is extremely difficult. The Griffin RC chopper flies fairly well inside a large and empty room, however.
Unfortunately, because the helicopter relies on infrared signals sent from the flight deck to control it, outdoor use can be hit or miss since the sun interferes with most infrared signals. Also, the chopper is extremely light, and even the slightest breeze can throw it off.
The accessory dock requires four AAA batteries (not included) and gives no indication of the remaining power level. You are forced to guess when your chopper will go down as the app fails to provide battery feedback as well, and the HELO lights only indicate a dead or dying battery. In our testing, we were able to get about 10 minutes per full charge.
For a $50 helicopter, Griffen delivers a fun, if slightly expensive distraction. Even when it was crashing and flying out of control, we had a blast. While battery life indicator would be greatly appreciated, and perhaps an accompanying orchestra playing Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries” while the chopper is airborne, the HELO TC RC helicopter is still an enjoyable gadget.