Picoo Z indoor helicopter from Silverlit Toys

Anyone who spent some time propped against the Coolers Bar soaking up the indoor scene at the BMFA Nationals this year, will know all about the tiny Picoo Z indoor helicopter. Latest gizmo from Silverlit Toys (USA) Inc., the little two-channel choppers were practically swarming within the confines of the free-flight area. Clearly, the diminutive 170mm heli' had captured the imagination of many a hardened aeromodeller, who had promptly purchased one - doubtless using the time-honoured story that it was a present for a small child! When later quizzed, having been seen flying said machine, a fair number of these adult customers reported that the model needed "an element of trimming" before it could be handed over to its short-trousered recipient. The trimming, however, appeared to be an incredibly rigorous and drawn out process that in most cases consumed three whole evenings, a goodly quantity of real ale, and required the opinion of half a dozen close and very knowledgeable mates! I began to get suspicious...

It was obvious to me that a dose of undercover investigative journalism was required and I quickly convinced myself that in order to do the job properly I'd have to purchase a micro helicopter and go through the self-same trimming and set-up process. Arriving at the on-site Picoo Z sales booth I duly tucked one of the aforementioned small choppers under my arm and proceeded to the till. Here I met the proprietor of the business, a tall sturdy chap who looked at me with wry smile and raised right eyebrow. It was a knowing, almost conceited, look, rather akin to a detective who was about to announce the killer in a murder case. Exchanging pleasantries I handed him the box along with three crisp ten-pound notes. "Present for our son, is it sir?" he quipped. Not wishing to divulge my real motive for buying the thing, I played along. "Err... yes, it is actually." "I expect you'll be wanting to test it in the hangar tonight, then?" says he. I retorted swiftly so as not to blow my cover, "Oh, that's a good idea, any advice?" "Yes, Picoo Zs operate using infrared control on three different bands, selectable from the transmitter. You'll need to check which bands are active before you switch on. Wouldn't want to break it before our son's birthday now, would we?" "Err, no, I guess not," says I, making a hasty retreat and forgetting my penny change! Passing the make-shift shelf stacked with Picoo Z boxes I overheard an elderly gentleman, of about 80 years vintage, comment to his wife, "Say, Dorris, wouldn't one of these make a lovely gift for our great grandson... when he arrives?" Clearly, the Nats was becoming overrun with Picoo Z madness.

Back in the sanctuary of my hotel room I began the investigation by examining the contents of this fascinating little... hmm... executive toy. Essentially the Picoo Z is quite a simple little helicopter with a geared main blade and direct-drive tail rotor. The latter turns counterclockwise to offset the torque effect of the clockwise-turning main blade and thus hold the fuselage in line. All bread and butter stuff to us hangar-hardened electric heli' nuts don't you know, though frightfully clever nonetheless.

Looking closely, I noticed that the Picoo has a small secondary rotor mounted above the main. To the untrained eye this looks a little like the fashionable contra-rotating set-up of recent times but is, in fact, a simple stabilising paddle. This basic conventionality, coupled to a nifty set of micro electronics and a tiny 3.7V Li-Po battery, all wrapped in a crash-resistant EPP fuselage shell, is a cracking combination.

Preparation for flight, as I discovered, couldn't be easier. One simply has to load six AA-size batteries in the back of the transmitter then connect the male plug (housed behind a sliding panel on the fascia of the Tx) into the female socket on the starboard side of the machine. All you do then is switch the Tx on and leave the whole to stand for 20 or 30 minutes until cooked, i.e. when the green charge light goes off. Voila! One flight-ready helicopter.

Basic flight is simple. Power-up the model using the left-hand stick and she'll lift into the air and sit in a hover like you've been doing it all your life. If untrimmed the model will probably pirouette to the right and continue to do so until you counter the effect by pressing enthusiastically hard on the left side of the trimmer switch. You may need to be a little brutal with this if the model is slow to react but five to ten presses should make the Picoo sit still for a second or two. My experience is that it won't stay this way for long and will slowly yaw one way or the other. Let the model be and it'll fly some neat little circuits all on its own. Intervene only when you want to change direction and do so with very light application of the right-hand stick. Full deflection will cause the little model to pirouette rapidly and, as you'll discover, it's very easy to over control and send the thing merrily spinning on its axis in a sort of rebound pirouette thingy. This, as one quickly discovers, is where the practice comes in, for to make the Picoo Z go where you want it, you'll need to be light of touch and heavy on anticipation. Flying large smooth circuits is where the skill comes in, and if you're really good, you may even be able to make it go where you want it!

Worry not about flying into walls and obstructions, this resilient little bird simply bounces off and tumbles to the floor. At just 9.6g it's so light that in all the collisions I've had (and there have been numerous) no damage has been sustained.

Who can resist it? The Picoo Z doesn't pretend to be anything other than a toy. It's offered at toy prices, has huge appeal to children (large and small!), needs no assembly, is crash resistant and is jolly good fun. Mine sits on my desk in the RCM&E editorial suite and in the interests of exhaustive testing I regularly practice flying it to the whisky decanter, around the King Edward stogies, and back again. After all, one has to pass the time somehow...