Say it with helicopters

_pic_p1420ex4A few years ago, we featured on How2 the world’s smallest radio-control helicopter, an amazing little thing called Pixel made by a chap called Alexander Van De Rostyne. It was tiny, fluttered around with astonishing stability, and while Alexander had been a bit tricky to coax over from Belgium he turned out to be thoroughly charming on the day. Fun all round. The only real problem was that Pixel had cost thousands of dollars to build and was a one-off labour of love.

Alexander was subsequently involved in the commercial Piccolo r/c helicopter kit, which with a rotor diameter of a foot or so was a somewhat different beast to the Pixel family, but still pretty darn small – though strictly for outdoor use. Now, however, all this has changed – PicoZ is a Van De Rostyne-designed microhelicopter for indoor use, sold through the likes of Firebox for the princely sum of £30.

Picture the scene, dear reader: I had cause, recently, to purchase flowers for an acquaintance who shall henceforth be known herein as ‘Flossie.’ This, however, presented a conundrum. For while I’m not so crass as to believe that anybody doesn’t like flowers, Flossie is not exactly a ‘girlie’ girl. ‘Say it with flowers’ hardly seemed right; I elected to say it with sub-miniature infra-red controlled brushless DC-motor driven direct-drive (collectiveless) aerial machinery. Works for me.

The PicoZ (the box is labeled ‘PicooZ,’ thanks to some licensing snafu, and at least one website refers to it as the ‘PiccoZ’ too) is an absolute joy. Which is to say, it’s a frisky little blighter with an apparent suicide streak when it comes to walls, corners, door frames, and going-behind-the-fishtank. Thirty minutes’ charging provides about ten minutes’ flight time, by the end of which the throttle control is nicely linear and some measure of hover stability can be achieved. There’s no cyclic control – the helicopter is trimmed to fly slowly forwards, with the right stick controlling tail rotor bias (there’s a separate trim control which more-or-less stops the poor little thing spinning around crazily, once you get it right). Draughts are disastrous, and Flossie’s Pico needs a tad more noseweight to make sufficient headway – apparently, there’s considerable variation from one unit to another on this.

Nevertheless, I’m astonished at the thing’s general stability. Flying it is challenging rather than frustrating, and hence it’s immensely satisfying when you manage to land on, say, the chair you’d intended rather than in the lampshade, on the cat, or whatever. So far it’s proving surprisingly robust, too.

Genuinely one of the best toys I’ve ever seen. It’s no surprise they keep selling out at Firebox… I must remember to pick one up for myself, it’s right up there in ‘must have’ territory, and there’s a growing mod community. I should also note that Flossie was appropriately thrilled.

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