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Unbelievable RC

Air Hogs Switchblade

November 2009

Street Price: $59.99 US
Manufacturer: Spinmaster
Mfgr's recommended min. age: 8
Our recommended age range: 12+
Top speed: n/a
Radio: 27mhz
Includes:

  • Assembled vehicle
  • Controller/charger
  • 4x spare propellers
  • 3-piece launching platform
  • Manual
Requires:
  • 6x AA batteries for the controller/charger

Initial Impressions

The Air Hogs Switchblade is a completely unique aircraft. It combines the design of a wide flying wing with a spinning rotor wing like the Bladestar, so it can fly vertically to get altitude, then fly like a regular plane once it's up. The new trick that makes it all happen is a joint right in the middle of the wing that allows the two sides to rotate to different angles for rotary helicopter-like flight, and a "Morph" button on the controller that makes it straighten out. Here's what the Switchblade looks like when prepared for vertical flight and placed on the included launch pad:

  detail

The launch pad is made of three parts, with the topmost piece acting like an adapter to cradle the aircraft and allow it to spin. You can see in this photo how the fuselage is twisted. Interestingly, you actually have to twist it this way by hand, as it's spring-loaded.

Preparing to Fly

Like with most Air Hogs models, the Switchblade has a preinstalled rechargable battery, and the controller doubles as a charger. New with the Switchblade is a more heavy-duty, one-prong charging jack that's easier to plug in and harder to get wrong than older styles. The launch pad shown above requires minor assembly that only takes a few seconds, but using it is optional as you can always hand-launch the craft.

Testing

The first day a friend & I took the Switchblade out to the field, there was a lot more of a breeze than we would have liked, and we weren't able to get more than about 15 seconds of continuous flight no matter what we tried. It just went from frustrating to downright comical, even though a normal Air Hogs plane we brought along was able to fly around pretty well. We both wanted to give up on the Switchblade completely, but I saw a glimmer of hope in the way it behaved during its brief stints in the air and decided to give it a fresh chance on a calm day.

A calm day never came, but when the air fell completely still late one evening, right at sundown, I charged up the Switchblade in a panic and raced out to the nearest open space for some precious testing time before the last of the sun's light faded away. Things this time were very, very different. I was immediately able to get as much flight time in one launch as my friend & I did in two full battery charges. The Switchblade turned better to the right than to the left, and also would lose altitude quickly when turning right (i.e., it would fall out of the sky). It wasn't so great at climbing in vertical flight mode, either. No worries! A few adjustments to the trim knob on the controller got everything evened out.

As it turns out, careful trimming is incomparably crucial with the Switchblade. The easiest way to get it right is to leave it in horizontal flight mode (wings not twisted) and hand-launch it. Try steering fully to one side and see how quickly it turns, and how deeply it banks into the turn. Then try the other direction. Don't worry about staying in the air, just see how it behaves when turning. Adjust your trim knob towards the weaker turning direction until you can't tell which side it favors. Once you've got it right, thw Switchblade will really come alive and be very controllable.

I liked hand-launching the Switchblade in horizontal flight mode, as this got if flying nicely with no delay and without using up a lot of battery charge to get in the air. If you start in vertical mode, it takes awhile to climb, and you have to get quite a bit of height because when you hit the Morph button, it can easily drop 20 feet before stabilizing into horizontal flight. I tried the launch pad several times, and found it to be more of a gimmick than anything. Half the time the whole thing just topples over and you have to try again. Even on successful launches the Switchblade first goes off to the side and falls almost all the way to the ground, hovering sideways for a bit before finally heading skyward. If you do want to do the whole morphing bit, you can do a vertical hand launch with just a twist of your wrist and an upward fling.

Video

Oh, no! No video this time! I got plenty of footage on the first, unsuccessful day, but there was not enough light on the second day, and then my camera broke down completely!

Conclusion

Clearly two things are very important with the Switchblade, flying in little to no wind, and trimming it properly. If you can bring these two things together at once, together with a large enough open field, and can have some good flight time with the Switchblade. The morphing feature is really unnecessary, as it only reduces the length of your controllable, real flight time on each battery charge. Cool to watch the first couple of times, though. That leaves the Switchblade as just a regular small plane that can only fly when there's no wind, which leaves me to ask, is it worth $60 USD? If you have lots of money to spare and just like trying new things, sure, it's worth a shot. However, you can do a lot better, like by getting two regular Air Hogs planes like single-wing Aero Aces, Jet Screams, or Foxfires. The Switchblade is a great novelty with an innovative design that does work, but I think it's overkill and doesn't give you a good "bang" for your buck.

C+

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