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Unbelievable RC

Air Hogs Reflex AH-64 Apache Heli

September 2009

Street Price: $69.99 US
Manufacturer: Spin Master
Mfgr's recommended min. age: 12+
Our recommended age range: 12+
Primary use: Indoor
Radio: n/a - infrared
Includes:

  • Heli
  • Controller / charger
  • Instructions
Requires:
  • 6 AA batteries for the controller

Initial Impressions

Ah! The Reflex is back, but it's oh so different from before! Remember I reviewed the original Reflex way back in March of 2007 and loved it, even though it was really funky looking. This new version for 2009 actually has a semi-scale body modelled after the military's popular AH-64 Apache attack helicopter, and it even has landing wheels (though the wheels are kind of fake and don't spin). It looks far less like a toy than the original, and more like a model. They even put missile racks on it!

Now, when you look a little more carefully, something else sticks out as very different from the original Reflex. Rather than having two small motors & propellers on the sides for propelling it forward or making it turn, this one just has a single tail rotor. Unlike on regular helicopters, this one's tail rotor faces up, not to the side. This is going to be used to lift or push down the tail to make the heli pitch (tilt) to make it move forward & backward. Turning will be accomplished by changing the relative speeds of the two main rotors.

Oh, one more thing. The original Reflex had four separate main rotor blades that were hinged and could actually be replaced. The new Apache Reflex has thinner, more flexible blades, and they're permanently attached.

Preparing to Fly

The Apache Reflex uses Air Hogs' normal setup system where the controller is also a charger for the aircraft -- you plug a jack from the controller into the bottom of the heli and flip a switch to get it started. I found that it takes between 30 and 40 minutes to get a full charge when the battery is dead.

The Apache Reflex does use a new controller, though, that is larger than others Air Hogs has used before and closer to the style of a hobby-level RC heli transmitter. It's important to get oriented to these controls before you start trying to fly.

  air hogs havoc cyclone

The left stick controls up & down motion, and it has no spring in it -- wherever you set it, it will stay. This helps you to focus on maneuvering the heli around rather than trying to keep the correct amount of pressure on the left stick to keep it from climbing or falling too quickly. The right stick is self-centering and spring-loaded. On this one, forward & back are for exactly that, moving forward & back (remember the tail rotor). Left & right control the yaw (turning). There are also trim dials for each of the right stick actions, and you should make sure both of these are centered before you start. Complicated enough yet?

The included instruction sheet has a section called "Trimming your helicopter," and it's really important that you follow these steps to get the heli properly balanced. They really don't come completely ready to fly, as tiny manufacturing differences from one to the next change their balance. The trimming process basically involves starting up the heli and using only the left stick on the controller to make it go straight up a foot or so in the air, then carefully observing how it behaves on its own, before letting it back to the ground and adjusting the trim knobs.

Testing

Okay, that was a lot to go through just to get ready, and I was really anxious to see this thing really fly. Properly trimmed, it actually hovers quite nicely, and movement is pretty smooth. It turns fine, though I found that it likes to follow through on a turn and over-rotate, so you have to give it very very small and brief inputs. Also if you turn too fast or for too long, it will lose some altitude and you have to briefly give it more left stick input until both rotors are back up to speed. Unfortunately either the torque of the tail rotor or its aerodynamic interference with the lower main rotor (or both) causes the Reflex to turn when you tell it to go forward or backward. As a result, to fly straight ahead, you have to push forward on the right stick and also give slight sideways inputs. If it still tries to turn and you have to give it more turning input, well, then it loses altitude again and you have to give it more left stick input. Ah, it's complicated!!

Video

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

Conclusion

Well I'm pretty worn out from flying this thing, and you're probably a little tired from reading all about it. The fact is, there's a reason the package says "PRO" on it and it's recommended for kits ages 12 and up. It's going to take a really smart kid with great patience and hand-eye coordination to have good success flying this craft. Granted, that's how more advanced helicopters are -- they're difficult. However, for the price of the three-function Reflex (up/down, left/right, and forward/back) you can now get a four-function (up/down, turn left/right, slide or strafe left/right, forward/back) hobby-level RC helicopter from a place like XHeli.com, and it will be significantly larger, you can get replacement parts if something breaks, and it will fly far more controllably and better teach the real skills of heli flying.

Sorry, Air Hogs, this new Reflex is more sophisticated, but when it's time to fly, the original was much better.

C+

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