HI. This is my guide for RC helicopters, written by someone who plays with and sells small helicopters.
It's written mainly for the benefit of anyone who has not flown an r/c helicopter before, those who have will have already paid richly for this knowledge...
Read it, and you will save both time and money.
Rule 1: The more you pay for a helicopter, the more it will cost you to keep it working.
Rule 2: They all crash, but some are easier to crash than others, and some take crashing much better than others.
Rule 3: The phrase "Easy to fly" is a lie... BUT some are easier than others, Just as some people are more natural pilots than others.
After watching a friend accrue half a dozen dead helicopters, and buying a couple of naff ones myself, I realised one crucial thing: If you ever want to be able to properly control your helicopter you need A BARE minimum of 3 channels. That means the controller allows you to vary at three things, those being engine power, tilt forwards and backwards, and turn left and right.
IF I am asked, I always suggest people start with a small indoor 3 channel helicopter that charges fast and is durable like the Syma 608 Mosquito helicopter. This will allow you to gain lots of basic experience as cheaply as possible, and the small size and weight limits the damage and cost. Of course if you are one of those healthy outdoors types, you'll want an outdoors helicopter. The problem here is the wind. Most indoor / small helicopters have been designed to be easy to fly, and hence do not have much spare capacity for fighting even the simplest breeze. My neighbours now just let me enter their gardens without knocking, when I'm flying the small stuff...
The bigger more powerful helicopters of course have sufficient capability to fight the wind, but that increased capability also increases the severity of any crash, which translates as more time spent repairing and less time spent flying, until you have good flying skills. You simply won't gain those skills if you break your helicopter first time out. Which is why I recommend a small indoor 3 channel helicopter!
Other small helicopters I have tried and evaluated as part of my research are:
Syma S001 and Huan Qi (AKA "wanky") 813 are a little fragile, but are relatively easy to fly "nicely". The Huan qui has more power, but seems to get broken more than the syma.
Double Horse 9094, 9089, which are more tricky to fly, but fly faster and can generally do better outdoors. The canopy on these models is a little ill fitting and falls off, but they crash surprisingly well, and are one of my personal favourites.
Huan Qi 811 in our house is known as the "killer of fridge magnets" becuase when it collides with the fridge it always escapes unscathed but the impact is sufficient to dislodge the magnets. It's durable and flies real nice indoors or dead still air, but it's size and power makes it very unpopular with the missus or the cat when flown indoors and it's a bit under powered for out doors. It is however, incredibly durable, and is the only helicopter that I have been unable to break during testing.
GT models Apache Gunship, 4 channel version, (Do not buy the two channel version except as a souce of spare parts for the four channel Heli) Flies quite well once set up correctly, but regularly consumes (mercifully cheap) blades and of course, is harder to learn to fly than a three channel.
Silverlit X-UFO. Incredibly sophisticated, and initially quite durable, this in my opinion is a flawed product. Unfortunately the vast majority have a mechanical gyro that helps make it easy to fly and controllable until a gust of wind, or the pilot induces more than 20 degrees of lean, when the gyro "topples" and the craft immediately enters a mode known as the "flip of death". There's an entire modelling community devoted to hacking these things about, and some of em fly real well, but not out of the box. There are several version of this made by Silverlit, and apparently knock of versions as well, but spare parts are an ordeal to acquire, and it does like to consume motors and gyro's by all accounts. Silverlit stuff, generally seems well thought out, and attractive, but spares are expensive and seem difficult to locate, consequently, their stuff never seems to spend much time in the air.
Twister Skylift. An awesome helicopter in many ways. costs around 140 quid and is very well thought out, and well supported with spares, but just stupidly easy to break, and surprisingly expensive to fix. For example: A rolling landing onto my lawn to my surprise instantly wiped out the flimsy front undercarriage. That instantly rendered the helicopter un-useable, and it's 4 quid plus a wait for the front spare wheels, in my case I had previously damaged and bodged the rear U/C so it's 8 quid plus postage, and the wait... As for the blades....
*Skylift extra notes. Since writing this review I have come to the conclusion that the skylift is unfeasible to operate, unliess you have deep pockets. Last week it accidentally got dropped off a table. Broke the landing gear AND the canopy! That's about 36 quid's worth of damage... Since this week the "3 in 1" electronics also packed up, (nearly 40 quid!) whilst I was discovering that this helicopter is not easily compatible with my futaba transmitters (Futaba are pretty much the industry standard in R/C). If anyone can tell me why this is, I'd like to know!!*
Vital spare parts which should be easily availble for any helicopter (Unless it is a mosquito, or 811!) are spare blades. The blades tend to shatter on contact with hard objects at speed and, on the more expensive helicopters even tipping it over so that the blades touch the ground is enough. I own the Twister Skylift helicopter, which has two sets of rotors each with four weak blades. It can consume up to ten quid worth of spare parts each time I take it for a spin. I calculated that the first week of learning to fly the Skylift actually was costing me more than owning and running my jaguar... You'll notice that some very low airtime second hand "skylifts" are appearing on ebay for, I suspect, this very reason. I've had to import a bulk order of blades from the USA to make it feasible to operate this baby, but I think I may be able to come up with a mod that will allow it to use cheaper and more durable blades in a month or so.
I hope this brief rambling guide has been helpful, it's certainly cost me a lot of time to be able to write it!
General things to consider are:
I'm sure this guide could be more complete, and it glosses over the more "serious" helicopters pretty much entirely, but it's just a primer, really.
You can get really involved with r/c helicopters, which I guess why I am trying to assemble an electronically stabilised, BB firing, camera carrying monstrosity in my back room, even as you read this...
Have fun.. Steve C.