on February 14, 2017
This is a comprehensive review of the Syma military line of gyro-stabilized helicopters (ends with G, as in "S102G"). You want a gyro unless you like not being able to control your helicopter. You can skip down to the notes for each copter now if you don't want detail. There is another review out there like this, and it's great to read, but it's somewhat inaccurate and leaves out valid criticisms that might alter your purchase. I will deal with invalid criticisms first (which you probably have been reading), review the choppers one by one, and then offer some neat ideas for extra fun with household "missions"--added-realism stuff you can buy for cheap, and some original ideas.
Criticisms to ignore
There are two major criticisms that are invalid--quality and durability. Any review that seems over the top ("spins out of control") is likely by someone who just got a lemon. With thousands of these manufactured in China, there's bound to be a few--return and replace. Another common complaint is that these helicopters are not durable ("broke the first time my son flew it"), which is just not the case unless you are trying to ram a hole in the wall. If they aren't crashing, you aren't doing anything difficult (fun) with them, kid or adult. Mine fly straight and level with the blades shredded on cabinet edges, after many falls onto hardwood. Furthermore, the blade system is designed to crash, and you can get a complete new set for each copter for $6 on Amazon. These are all high quality, durable, and well worth your $25. They are built to last.
Quick facts if you want to skip all this
If you want the quick facts: Adults will want the S026G (Chinook), because it's fast and you can do neat off-label stuff with it like modify it to carry cargo and use it outside (see below). Smaller kids will want the S108G (USMC Viper or Super Cobra), because it's pretty much one piece of molded plastic and is invulnerable. Bigger kids will want the S111G (Coast Guard MH-68A) because it's highly detailed, looks great, lands easily, moves smoothly, and has a great balance of all the desired qualities to run an "oil rig on fire" rescue (i.e., airlifting BP personnel off an embattled bar stool).
Some terms defined (skip this if you skip anything)
It is important to note some terms I'll be using in the reviews. Skip this if you have to skip something, but it's helpful. For those who know helicopters, these don't work at all like real helicopters, and you can look all that up if you want, but I am going to use "helicopter" words. First the controls (see my uploaded picture of a remote control). By "collective" I mean the left stick control which controls the speed of the rotor, and therefore the altitude. I measure the power of this as "thrust." Some copters have a collective that stays put, allowing a "hands off" hover, and some have a spring-loaded collective, which means having to keep pressure on to keep the rotor turning, but which gives more responsive control when you need that (e.g. "oh no, the ceiling fan"). By "cyclic" I mean the right stick control, which allows for simultaneous propulsion and turning (measured as speed and handling). By "trim" I mean the little knob between the sticks which you twist just a bit, after your first post-charge liftoff, to counteract normal slight turning, to keep the body straight. The "Chinook" has another trim control (forward-backward) given its two-rotor setup, and I'll leave that for its review. By "channel select" I mean the switch on the controller that allows for linking one controller to two or three choppers. Sometimes I will refer to the "landing length" of each, by which I mean the distance between its landing gear, and therefore the smallest spot it can land on--the smaller the spot, the less precise the landing has to be, and for dads and kids, having real fun means executing landings as a part of your mission setups.
Batteries, charging, and flight time
A quick note on batteries and charging. These all charge from the controller (slow) or from a USB (~50 minutes), and will stay in the air for 8-10 minutes or more depending on how hard you fly--obviously, going "up" takes the most power. Include a lot of landings and some sort of neat mission involving a couple copters, and you've got 30 minutes of fun, 15 out of each. One note--my Apache charges in just over 30 minutes--way fast. But it will only sustain flight for 7 minutes, compared to 10 on the others. I would say that this is the result of my having a lemon, but I've read a lot of reviews that say 7 minutes on the Apache. I suppose people don't complain because most people who only buy one copter buy the Apache. There isn't anything wrong with it--it's just really heavy, and as I explain below you have to add more weight to the nose to balance it. 7 minutes is great.
THE REVIEWS BY MODEL
Based on: UH-60(D?) Blackhawk
Handling: very good
Thrust (up and down): very good
Hover: very stable
Landing length: 4.25"
Looks: very good
The handling on the Blackhawk is buttery smooth, if not the very quickest, and while its speed is a bit below average, it's not much of a difference. Its hover is dead-on, and even with the larger landing area needed, it makes you look better than you are for a hover or a landing. The collective is not spring-loaded, adding to the butteriness, yet it's also got a lot of thrust given its favorable power-to-weight ratio. The lights are positioned forward and are clear, meaning you can very easily fly this in total darkness and illuminate what's in front of you--or be able to tell which direction the chopper is heading from a distance. It looks great, and if you want to take down Osama at night, it's a military essential for transporting Seals. I have not crashed this one as much as the others, possibly because the control is smoother and slower, but it has taken some vicious falls without breaking off landing gear.
Based on: MH-68A (USCG Agusta A109)
Thrust (up and down): good
Hover: very stable (non-spring collective)
Landing length: 2.5"
Like someone else said, this "Coast Guard" chopper "wins the looks battle," but it also happens to be my personal favorite overall. It's in another class than the rest when it comes to detail and the realistic placement of the lights. It's also got the most favorable balance between stability, speed, and thrust, with a no-spring collective. It twists and turns without any loss of speed, and seems to me to be the best representation of how an actual helicopter runs, if you've seen one in action or ridden on one. Add to that a very small landing area, and you've got the best of all worlds for some quick rescue operations. It's also just nice to have the Coast Guard markings for inspiring mission ideas (see below). I live next to a Coast Guard base, so it was an essential first purchase, and, amazingly for its looks, it has taken brutal damage and doesn't show it except on the rotors, which are ragged--and the hover is a stable as it was when new.
Based on: AH-1Z Viper (USMC upgraded Super Cobra)
Speed: 2.62 fps
Handling: below average
Thrust (up and down): excellent
Hover: stable (spring-loaded collective)
Landing length: 1.75"
So this was for me also a first purchase, just because since I was a kid looking at old Vietnam footage, I have thought that the Cobra is just way more interesting than the blocky Apache. That said, it is the least detailed, although its being molded out of a single piece of plastic makes it indestructible and so lightweight it has thrust to spare--as much as the two-rotor Chinook. Its light faces forward, which makes it easy to tell what direction it's going in low light, but unlike the Blackhawk or Apache, there's only one light, so not so useful in the total dark. A bit cheesy that the light is where the gun is. On the bright side, it has a tiny landing area, and a stable enough hover to match, even with a spring-loaded collective. So you have some dynamism there. But I have to say that the handling is not so hot. For some reason, it has difficulty going forward and turning right at the same time--smooth as silk with left swoops across the living room, but you have to hit a difficult sweet spot on the cyclic control to keep the thing going forward in a left turn. It's not impossible, but it's so noticeable that I sent the first one I had back, thinking it was a lemon (given that I had another copter to compare). The second was just the same, so I turned my attention to the remote control. However, its remote control is interchangeable with the Chinook's, and it has the same problem when run by that remote. I don't want to put it down too much--I still fly it as much as any, and you get used to its odd characteristics turning right. It has missiles and rockets you can take on and off with a precision screwdriver. And if you want to control another helicopter when flying the Chinook, this is the only one compatible (its controller will not control the Chinook, however--see below). I'd say that this is a good one for a kid who you know is going to destroy any copter in a few days--it'll last longer--but if there's one to skip, this is it.
Based on: CH-47D Chinook
Speed: 4.05 fps (6.36 fps or more by using the forward trim button)
Thrust (up and down): excellent (over the top)
Hover: unstable (spring-loaded collective)
Landing length: 3"
Looks: very good
Special information: easy to install a cargo hook and carry/drop off small items (see pictures below)
All right--so this one is from another planet than the others. Beyond a doubt my favorite, and an incredible piece on engineering when you think about it--two propellers. Due to its power-to-weight ratio, it's incredibly powerful, maneuverable, and very fast. And there's an easy, non-technical hack to make it go twice as fast as that. That sort of speed means more fun for bigger kids (or smaller kids with patient dads) and adults. There's a lot for a kid to break on it, and it's the only one that really goes fast enough for a kid to break it easily. Other than that, it's solid gold, and I have to say it took one fall outside from ten feet onto concrete without a scratch or any damage. It's not that stable hovering, but its small landing length makes up for that in landings. It has a spring-loaded collective, which would be the only complaint if any, other than that its remote can only pair with the Viper/Cobra (S108G). So what's the hack for speed? Well, you've got your rotational trim knob, like all the others, but there is a forward-backward trim controlled by two buttons on the top of the remote. So if it is drifting back or forward when you lift off after a charge, you tap the appropriate (opposite) button a couple times until it's stable. But in this manner, you can pop the "F" button five times, and although you will have a constant, slow forward motion, destabilizing it just barely like this makes it book at twice the speed. You can go as far as you want, if you want to risk a crash. When outside, I destabilized it about as far as it would go, and it was going faster than anyone could reasonably hope to control. And this is easy to control in flight, to return it back to balance. So, also due to the fore-aft balance, you can install a hook on the bottom and carry light loads, without overloading the gyro and throwing the copter off-balance--so long as the hook is reasonably near the center of gravity. The Blackhawk I think has enough power to lift a light load, but it will inevitably be off-balance without the ability to trim forward-backward motion. It is pretty cool to be able to drop a small toy soldier (like 1 inch tall) or supply container off at the top of a toy building. See the picture below for more detail, and note that I have details on the $10 toy building in question, which comes with soldiers and a barrel that this can carry.
Based on: AH-64D Apache Longbow
Hover: unstable (stable with fix) (non-spring collective)
Thrust (up and down): average
Landing length: 5.5"
I would say that this guy maneuvers a lot like the Blackhawk, very smooth, and is slightly faster. It's the heaviest copter, so its thrust is wanting, but who doesn't want the baddest helicopter in the US arsenal? Every kid--this is the most popular copter. Up front, this one will probably require that you use a precision screwdriver to add weight to the front internally, or its over-heavy tail causes it to drift backward very noticeably. It's easy to fix, but stay away if that scares you or you want out-of-the-box action. I'll explain that easy fix last. Once balanced, it is a great accompaniment to the Blackhawk, as their controllers are compatible, and you can control both with one--a very realistic mission pairing for modern warfare, judged essential in Afghanistan. It would be cool if the missiles and rocket pods were exactly the same as the Cobra's, so you could modify the loadout, but they have slightly different mountings. You could get two Apaches. I suppose overall, given its weight, this chopper would be the most bland in terms of handling, although it isn't flawed like the Viper/Cobra--but its looks save it, and if you want to run neat combat missions providing cover for your kid, it's just a necessity. Notably, it's got a really long distance between the landing gear, so it's tough to stick landings on the helipads so popular with these copters (see below for link), but that distance also adds balance for floor landings, when another copter (say the Chinook) might fall over. To modify it so it doesn't drift backwards: 1) Get some blue "sticky tack" like you use to put up posters in college dorms, and stick a pea-sized amount under the nose, modifying it until you see how much it takes to stop backward motion in a hover--you are now going to put this stick tack inside the nose. 2) Use any 1/8 precision screwdriver, phillips head, from the dollar store, to take off the battery cover screw on the underside and remove the battery cover. 3) In the same way, take off enough screws down the underside of the copter to lift up the flat underside of the thing and comfortably mush the sticky tack inside the "targeting system" that hangs from the nose of the Apache. Button it all back up, and this process will have taken 10 minutes, max.
Extra stuff for your missions:
Helipads (see link)
These helipads are a necessity, and have all sorts of customizable stickers for realism. With bright red LED's, it turns a bar stool into an oil rig in distress for your coast guard chopper. Get three, and you can dream up a scenario using multiple copters, with various steps around the home. A must if you have carpet, because only the Cobra is stable enough not to fall over on a non-flat surface.
Bombed-out building (see link)
For around $10, you can get a sturdy, easy-to-build model of a bombed-out building that is the perfect prop for a raid. It also comes with a small metal tank for your Apache to destroy, a supply drum, some sandbags, and three small soldiers to "carry" (in your pocket) on a Blackhawk--or, as I show below, to *actually* carry suspended from a hook installed on a chinook.
Container ship (see link)
It's incredible what you get for $15 here. This foam-board ship is solid, and has incredible realism. It did take upwards of an hour to build, but it's not a "puzzle" like the ad says, it's a model with clear instructions. Any smart kid over 8 who's used to Legos will have no problem. It can be subject to a pirate raid, or it can be on fire and starting to list--the very cool thing, and this is still hard, but the Coast Guard copter can actually land on it.
Modifying the Chinook to carry actual loads (see pictures below)
This was described above without detail. See the pictures attached below. Use a 1/8", sharp drill bit to very slowly drill through the bottom as seen in the picture--a bit forward, which is where the center of gravity is (I tested for this spot by taping a load on in various places), dead center. Then snip most of the threaded post off of the hook, and snip off about 1/3 of the circular eye. It can now be threaded into the hole. It's best to have it open backward, as any cargo carried by a wire will slip off of it when you land the cargo and hover forward (without landing the copter). A 1" toy soldier or the barrel from the bombed-out building set above is an easy load.Taking off with cargo is easiest by hand, but with a decently long cord, you can just lay the payload down next to the copter and take off. I am using extremely thin metal wire from a stripped, untwisted speaker cable, but thread works fine. Metal is just easier to bend around things. It would be cool to be able to pick things up, for instance with a wire loop, but the "prop wash" from the copter pushes any such loop away. Dropping off is the deal for now, but if you were to string the wire up between two posts and hit it solid from behind, that might work.
What an incredible amount of fun for next to nothing!