£17 of miniature flight

As the first “geek review” on here, I’m going to go with something I could never review in the print titles I work for – the Silverlit “PicooZ” helicopter that I found on sale in Asda for £17.

I’ve messed about with so-called “radio controlled” flying cheap toys previously and they have invariably been useless – capable of either hovering and landing, or tethered, or just utterly uncontrollable, but this tiny device packs some fairly clever technology into a small space to produce a moderately flexible toy – it’s no “model” – that is good fun.

PicoZ helicopter in 2008

Since I’ve never played with a proper R/C helicopter I have no idea how it compares, but the theories it presents look like they would translate will into having more of an idea when trying a more expensive device, such as the £69 model I saw in Maplins. Control is via two sticks, and uses IR technology (leading to comical moments when it got too close to a halogen heater).

There’s a digital trimmer control which adjusts the tail rotor to counteract spin, and the package includes some aluminium stickers to adjust balance as well as a spare tail rotor. Batteries used are 6 AA units, contained in the transmitter, and this doubles up as a charger for the helicopter’s built in Li-polymer battery. Unlike most “charge on base” toys, this uses a proper battery rather than a glorified capacitor and as such, takes about 20 minutes to recharge for 6 minutes (roughly) of flying.

Flying the PicoZ

Initial flight requires a balance of “aggressive” input on the power, and invariably with a fully charged battery the little helicopter will fly straight up and hit the ceiling – balancing the power inputs when fully charged can be quite tricky. It settles down into a fairly logical 1/2 to 3/4 setting resulting in reasonable hovering, and then you can play with the tail rotor and trim to keep it straight. Because it relies on motor speed variation to provide a small amount of forward travel via the connected blades, the trick is to feather the speed slightly whilst balancing the rotation, making the nose dip and the helicopter travel forward.

Fine control is possible, but very tricky and air currents will upset it! Impressively the IR remote system has sufficient range to deal with a reasonably large room, and is responsive. It’s also solid/robust enough to survive an 8ft drop without damage, even if it hits a few things on the way down.

EasyJet may have pioneered the concept of cheap flight, but for those of us that would rather be in control of the machine, this is almost as much of a bargain!

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