Why Choose Remote Control Helicopters?
The top performers in our review are the Gold Award winning WL Toys V262 Cyclone, the Silver Award winning Hubsan X4 and the Bronze Award winning Walkera Super CP. Here’s more on choosing a great remote control helicopter, along with details on how we arrived at our rankings of the 10 best.
There's something exciting about controlling a vehicle from afar, watching it twist and turn at your command. Remote control helicopters offer the most direct control of any RC vehicle, letting you hover, soar and dance around obstacles with unmatched finesse. With modern gyroscopes and six-channel controls, they needn't be difficult to fly.
Granted, RC helicopters aren't for everyone. Even the easiest can take a bit of practice to control, so if you're looking for something more straightforward and suited to racing with your friends, RC cars and RC boats are both excellent options. Likewise, a spinning rotor overhead can only move so fast; if you're after truly rapid flight, there's nothing speedier than a remote control airplane. For trick flying and running elaborate obstacle courses, helicopters are the only choice.
RC Helicopters: Understanding the Technology
Many complex components enable helicopter flight. Between varying rotor construction, gyroscopes, signal technologies in the remote and multiple channels, if you're new to the hobby, it's a lot of information to absorb. Here are the basics you need to know before making a decision:
Rotor Style: Stability vs. Maneuverability
Rotors are the spinning blades that give a helicopter lift. They come in three styles. Single-rotor construction is what you think of when you picture a helicopter: a single, spinning blade that cuts through the air in constant circles. Single-rotor RC helicopters can be extraordinarily nimble, letting you do tricks like barrel rolls or inverted flight, but they're also much easier to crash.
Co-axial rotors are common in beginner copters. They have two rotors stacked one on top of the other, spinning in different directions to provide both lift and stability. Co-axial helicopters tend to be extremely easy to fly, but their stability restricts speed and keeps them from pulling off flips and tight cornering.
Quadcopters are commonly called drones, though the ones we review here are more affordable and don't feature the expensive HD cameras that tend to define the upper-tier RC drone market. Both stable and quick, quadcopters can pull off flips and tricks with ease, but they look nothing like most helicopters, and their speed can lead to more crashes indoors.
Gyroscopes: Low Tech vs. High Tech
To properly fly, every RC helicopter needs a gyroscope, which helps provide stabilization and keeps the aircraft upright. There are two types of gyroscopes you might find in a helicopter. The simplest are horizontal crossbars, which are mounted above the copter's rotor and spin in tandem with it. These bars have weighted tips that distribute the aircraft's center of gravity, providing stabilization. Crossbars are cheap and easily replaced if they break, but they prevent you from doing any advanced maneuvers like flips, barrel rolls or inverted flight.
Internal gyroscopes are electronic. They give the aircraft's computer a precise understanding of how it's oriented, which in turn lets it subtly shift rotor movement and speed to maintain stable flight. Because internal gyroscopes are far smarter than their crossbar brethren, you can usually perform stunts with them.
The Remote Control: Avoiding Interference
Every helicopter we review here is an RTF model: It's ready to fly, coming fully assembled and already bound (paired) with a remote control – a transmitter, in RC parlance. Different transmitters use different technologies to communicate with their respective helicopters. The most basic of these technologies is an old one: infrared.
Just like your TV's remote, infrared helicopters use invisible light to transmit signals from the controller to the aircraft. Unfortunately, sunlight jams infrared signals and prevents them from operating, so you can't fly outdoors. Losing line of sight behind a pillar or around a corner likewise cuts a signal off. As soon as a helicopter loses connection with its transmitter, it stops flying, and that can result in some untimely crashes.
The best modern remote control helicopters use the 2.4GHz radio band, the same one used by wireless internet routers. These 2.4GHz signals tend to be very resistant to interference, even around corners and through pillars, and they can reach aircraft up to 300 feet away.
Channels: More Is Always Better
Whatever technology drives your helicopter's transmitter, be sure to check how many channels it supports. Channels are the pathways of information that flow from the remote to the aircraft. Each pathway has one piece of information on it, which usually equates to a direction of travel. The more pathways there are, the more complex your maneuvers can be.
The first channel controls the main rotor's power, which translates to vertical lift. The second control motions forward and back, while the third lets you turn the helicopter left and right. Many cheap RC helicopters only have 3.5 channels: three plus a half channel that's used to control running lights, shoot toy rockets or do other simple tasks.
Adding a fourth channel allows lateral flight, sometimes known as strafing or sideslipping. You can move your copter from side to side without having to first turn in a given direction. The very best RC helicopters, however, have two more channels. With six-channel control, you can pull off fantastic tricks like barrel rolls, loops and even inverted flight.
RC Helicopters: What We Tested, What We Found
We ran each RC helicopter through a slew of tests, benchmarking their flight times and charge times, gauging their speed and stability, and judging each on ease of flight. In the case of benchmark tests, we ran each chopper at least three times and averaged the results to achieve final numbers.
Unsurprisingly, it can take between 30 minutes and two hours to charge an RC helicopter to full capacity for about 10 minutes or less of flight time. What surprised us was the tangible difference we felt between a six-minute flight and a 10-minute flight. A mere six minutes can feel underwhelming, yet after about 10 minutes, we were always ready for a break – after all, it takes focus and coordination to fly an RC helicopter. Look for one with at least eight minutes of flight time and you'll probably be satisfied.
If you're a beginner pilot, ease of flight is one of the most important decision points you face. Generally speaking, the bigger an RC helicopter is, the easier it is to control. The mass and weight of the aircraft helps keep it steady in wind, while its size makes it easier to follow as you're flying around. It can be especially difficult to see which way a small quadcopter is pointing.
Top Ten Reviews seeks, whenever possible, to evaluate all products and services in hands-on tests that simulate as closely as possible the experiences of typical consumers. We purchased every RC helicopter on our lineup from online retailers and tested each in the same real-world conditions you might experience. The manufacturers had no input or influence over our test methodology, nor was that methodology provided to any of them in more detail than is available through reading our reviews. Results of our evaluations were not provided to the companies in advance of publication.
RC Helicopters: Tips for Beginners
Whatever helicopter you end up buying, there are a couple good practices you need to follow in order to have the best experience.
Proper Startup Procedure
Always turn your transmitter on first, even before you flip the helicopter's power switch or plug in its battery. Transmitters are designed to wait for a helicopter to turn on so the two devices can pair up, but it doesn't work the other way around. Should you turn on your helicopter before your transmitter, the two devices won't know how to talk to each other.
Once you've flipped your transmitter on, always set the throttle stick to its lowest setting. During the pairing process, the helicopter needs to know where the lowest and highest throttle settings are so it can calibrate itself to match.
With the transmitter on and ready, you can flip the helicopter's switch or plug in its battery. If it has an internal gyroscope, you have to put it down on level ground as soon as possible to calibrate the gyroscope and minimize trimming. Let it sit for a few seconds, then raise and lower the throttle. After that, you're ready to go airborne.
Trimming the Aircraft
When you first take your new helicopter to the skies, it probably won't hover in place. Virtually all of them drift in some way – they turn slowly or lean to the right or left even when your hands are off the controls because of tiny variations in the aircraft that throw it off balance.
Trim lets you manually compensate for unwanted spin or lean. When you first fire up a new RC copter, don't be frustrated if it doesn't hover perfectly. Take some time and adjust its trim until it doesn't spin in place or drift around. Keep in mind that wind causes drifting you can’t counteract with simple trim, so it's always a good idea to trim away from windy areas.
RC Helicopters: Our Verdict and Recommendations
As RC hobbyists well know, there are dozens, if not hundreds, of helicopter variations in the world, all vying for your attention. We've narrowed down that field to just 10, representing a variety of affordable price points and technical capabilities.
The Best Overall RC Helicopter: WL Toys V262 Cyclone
At the top of the pack sits the WL Toys V262 Cyclone, the overall best remote control helicopter we reviewed. It's big and looks cheap, but don't let that foam construction scare you away; the Cyclone is stable, powerful and an absolute blast to fly. An easy-to-understand transmitter and simple activation make getting airborne a breeze, while the foam construction staves off catastrophe at the hands of unwanted tree trunks or buildings. We hands-on tested every RC helicopter in our lineup, and the V262 Cyclone is one that kept us coming back for more after testing was done. It's a pleasure to fly.
The Budget Pick: Syma S-107G
The best budget remote control helicopter is the Syma S-107G. With basic 3.5-channel controls, crossbar stabilization and infrared comms, it's the simplest pick-up-and-fly helicopter on our lineup. Though the Syma is highly stable and a cinch to fly, it moves slowly. You can't sideslip, and you can't bring it out into the sun. For under $20, though, it's the cheapest way to get yourself aloft.
Should you still find yourself struggling to pick an aircraft, check out some of our articles on remote control helicopters. Between the articles and the comparison chart we've assembled at the top of this page, you shouldn't have a problem finding a new RC helicopter that you or a loved one will adore taking to the sky.