I bought myself a radio control (RC) helicopter. I have secretly wanted one for quite some time but they always seemed a bit too expensive. The last place I expected to find an inexpensive (I won’t say “cheap”) RC helicopter was at Tuesday Morning when Carol Ann and I went shopping last week. Tuesday Morning is a chain of over 800 stores that is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year. If you have never been to a Tuesday Morning store you have missed something. It’s a little like going to a very large garage sale, except all of the merchandise is new. The merchandise is continually changing because they get it from buying closeouts from other chains, manufacturers, distributors, etc. You’ll find a little of everything any time you visit.
I was trailing behind Carol Ann with the shopping cart as we walked up one aisle and down another. Eventually we split up to look around and I found myself in the toy aisle and I decided to pick up a few small toys for my grandson. I always have something for him when he visits (which is spoiling him because he visits at least once or twice a week). I had already picked out a few things when I spotted the helicopter. There was only one on the shelf and I almost missed it. I picked up the box and through the cellophane window in the side of the box I could see this really neat looking, but small, helicopter. It was a little less than seven inches long, about one and a half inches wide, and four inches high. Made by a company named Propel, it was their ATOM I model. A “3-Channel Helicopter with Gyro Stabilization” and “For ages 12 and up” (that's my age range) it read on the box. I didn't see an RC controller in the box but then I noticed the word “BLUETOOTH” on the box. This thing was actually controlled with an app on your iPhone after pairing it with the helicopter. Slick! It came with a rechargeable battery and a USB charging cable to charge the battery from your computer. It also boasted, “Free spare parts for life!” I was excited about this toy but just knew that it would cost more than I wanted to pay for it. As they say, “The only difference between men and boys is the cost of their toys.” I held my breath and looked for the price sticker. I couldn’t believe it when I found it. Only $19.99! No wonder there was only one left on the shelf. I quickly put it in the shopping cart with the rest of the loot and couldn’t wait until we got home so I could try it out.
Once we were home I plugged in the USB charging cord, downloaded the control app, and began reading the instruction booklet. Carol Ann was in her chair going over the mile-long receipt when she asked, “How much did you think that helicopter cost?”
“$19.99,” I answered.
“Well, they charged you $49.99,” she replied as she picked up the box to check the price sticker. As it turned out the sticker did read $49.99 but the numeral 4 was a little smudged, making it look like $19.99! I’m glad I misread the sticker or I probably would have put it right back on the shelf if I had known it was $49.99. I did check the Internet and found it for $73.48 on Amazon, $116.39 at Sears, and $69.95 from the Propel Flight Club website. So I’m still happy with the price.
The battery was finally charged; it was paired with my iPhone, and ready for its first flight. This shouldn’t be a problem, I thought. After all, I have a commercial pilot license with instrument rating (of course I haven’t flown an aircraft in over twenty years – and it wasn’t a helicopter). I sat the helicopter on the coffee table (it’s an inside toy and would be blown away outside) and slowly advanced the throttle on my iPhone. The rotors began to turn but not fast enough for lift off so I gave it full throttle and in the blink of an eye it had bounced off the ceiling and was flopping around on the floor before I could retard the throttle and make it stop. By then the dog and two of our cats had already taken off in a panic for parts unknown as if the gates of hell had opened and they were being chased by demons. As I walked over to pick the helicopter up I was thinking, “This is why they offer free replacement parts.” But to my surprise it was still in one piece and ready for its second flight.
I placed it back on the table and this time advanced the throttle very carefully until ATOM I lifted off and began a gradual climb. Very nice, I told myself. Then I realized I had to stop the climb and level it off or there would be another encounter with the ceiling. Not yet used to the controls I pushed the throttle in the wrong direction and ATOM I immediately shot up and into the ceiling again. This time it did not bounce around on the floor. It just lay there like a dead bird. I picked it up and examined it but found nothing broken so I decided to try it one more time.
The third time is always a charm. Right? Well, I enjoyed mixed success. At least there was no violent crash into the ceiling on this flight. I finally had ATOM I flying straight and level. Perfect. It wasn’t headed for the ceiling but it was making its way towards a wall and I couldn’t make it turn right or left so I just chopped the throttle all the way back and let the helicopter fall to the floor. I picked it up, switched it off, didn't see anything broken, looked around to see if anyone was watching (nobody was), and put it in my closet. Hopefully, I’ll get up enough courage in the not too distant future to try it once again. Maybe I’ll wait until we move into our new house. It’s ceilings will be ten feet high.