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Unbelievable RC

Air Hogs Micro Hovercraft

May 2009

Street Price: $19.99 US
Manufacturer: Spin Master
Mfgr's recommended min. age: 10+
Our recommended age range: 8-10
Primary use: Indoors
Radio: n/a - infrared
Includes:

  • Vehicle
  • Transmitter / charger
  • Instructions
Requires:
  • 4 AA batteries for the transmitter

Initial Impressions

I've been a fan of hovercraft for years, but I've had bad luck with RC versions in the past, and they're usually not cheap. When I saw the Air Hogs Micro Hovercraft at Toys R Us, though, its low price and palm-top size guaranteed that I wouldn't be leaving without it.

The Micro Hovercraft is about 4 1/2" long and has an aerodynamic body with a large propulsion fan and a clear cockpit where you can see the electronics underneath. What surprised me was that all around the base, what looks like a thin black plastic bag, is practically just that, a thin, very flimsy plastic bag-like ring that seems really cheap. More on this in a minute.

 

Preparing to run

In typical Air Hogs style, the controller doubles as a charger (powered by 4 AA batteries). There's nothing to plug in, though, and you don't even have to go through any hassle to line up the charging port because electrical plates on the charger and the hovercraft simply press into secure contact with eachother, helped by magnets in the charger that line them up!

  air hogs havoc cyclone

There's really no possible way to do this any more simply. The only thing that isn't so nice is the 20- to 30-minute wait for it to charge (the instructions say 40 minutes, but it never took this long for me).

Testing

When you give the Micro Hovercraft some throttle, it fills up the bag-like ring around its base (properly called a "skirt" in full-size hovercraft terms) with air, lifting the whole craft away from the ground. Give it a little more throttle and it starts to move forward. There's actually only one motor and one propeller -- some of the air blows down for lift, and some blows to the rear for propulsion.

When I first started trying to hover around, it kept turning in one direction, so I had to adjust a little trim tab on the craft itself, as explained in the manual. No matter how I trimmed it, though, it would always sort of move either a little left or a little right, never perfectly straight. I actually noticed that the plastic "skirt" doesn't always inflate the same way. There are always some kinks or crinkles, and when you get too many on one side, the whole craft leans to the opposite side and then turns in that direction, like it's always falling even though it's on the ground. After awhile I got a decent combination of crinkles and trim, and finally got it going, only to have it suddenly stop altogether. The battery was dead already! Almost 1/2 hour of waiting for it to charge, and it was done after about 4 minutes of actual running. Back to the charger it went.

air hogs havoc cyclone

Finally on a fresh charge, I found that I had to keep it at a little more than half throttle to keep it controllable. At full throttle it would always spin too easily or get going in one direction and not want to stop even when I tried to turn around. It's also important to realize that while it's technically hovering on air, the plastic bag, I mean "skirt," really drags on the ground, so if you're not on a very smooth surface, it will just be stuck. A perfectly flat table surface or linoleum kitchen floor is best. It will also hover around on a very, very smooth patio, but it's no good on most sidewalks. It's also hopeless on even the slightest incline. Perfectly flat, perfectly smooth is the name of the game.

Video

(Click a video a second time to view it larger in a new window.)

Conclusion

Well, the Air Hogs Micro Hovercraft is cheap, but it has a lot of things working against it, like the long charge time, short battery charge life, difficulty going straight, and inability to hover over any surface that isn't really perfect. Also, even though it's a hovercraft, gliding around on a pillow of air, it can't go over water. When its battery charge runs out, it completely dies and would sink and short out. I'm giving this one the lowest possible passing grade. It works, and it's not too expensive, and it's really interesting if you like hovercraft, but I really wish it was better in every way.

C-

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