Review: Swann Micro Lightning RC Helicopter

Flying This Chopper is Short But Sweet

Swann's Micro Lightning RC helicopter. Image © Swann

UPDATE: Quadcopters are now the hot item for airbone RC toys and this item has since been discontinued. For an updated version, check out the Swann Micro Attack RC Military Helicopter. For quadcopter options from Swann check out our reviews of the QuadForce Video Drone and Xtreem Gravity Pursuit Video Drone. Don't forget to check our 9 Do's and Don'ts When Flying Drones plus our 4 Tips When Buying a Drone.

ORIGINAL ARTICLE

Airwolf. Blue Thunder. Vietnam-era Hueys and Desert Storm Apaches. As a kid, I’ve always been fascinated by helicopters. Heck, I even loved watching the helicopter-like giant dragonflies that hovered in the field by my hometown’s small airport.

Still, I didn’t know what quite to expect after seeing Swann’s Micro Lightning remoter-controlled toy copter. The sleek, yet simple design was certainly intriguing. And the double rotors also tugged at whatever emotion I share with other males that automatically makes anything mechanical look cool when you have two of it (double gatlings, double tailpipes, etc.).

Of course, the question with any contraption such as this is, “Will it fly?” I charged up the chopper, plopped six AA batteries in the remote and put the Mico Lightning through the paces inside my living room. (Yes, my living room. It’ll make sense later.)

PROS

Ease of use: It’s been ages since I used an RC toy of any kind. In fact, I remember being a couple inches shorter and many pounds lighter then. I faintly remember sucking quite bad, too. So I was surprised at how quickly I adapted to controlling the Micro Lightning. The controls are easy to figure out. The left stick controls altitude while the right stick controls direction. The funny thing is that my sister always make fun of my, um, tendency to handle things with care. That includes how I chop vegetables or mix hamburger meat, which she says looks like I’m massaging an ant. But besides ingratiating me with the ladies (har) my gentle nature apparently is quite suitable for controlling this copter. Just remember to carefully ease up or down on the control sticks and you’ll be able to avoid crashing into stuff while landing with ease. Don’t forget to adjust the rudder trim if the copter seems a bit unstable when hovering.

Spare rotors: Speaking of crashing into stuff, Swann includes two spare sets of rotors in case you wear down the original rotors from unintended contact with your walls, ceiling, floor or mother-in-law’s in face (yeah suuuurrre, that was an accident). Just remember that you only get two pairs so try not to go overboard against your mother-in-law, er, I mean minimize accidents whenever you can, OK?

Variable channels: What’s more fun than flying an RC helicopter by yourself? Flying more than one copter with other people, of course. Then again, it might not be so fun if your signals cross and you end up with unmitigated copter mayhem instead. Fortunately, the Micro Lightning comes with more than one channel to sync with to make sure you’re controlling the right helicopter.

Rechargeable: The battery of the copter itself can be recharged, so you don’t need to keep buying batteries for it. Just plug the USB charging cable to a computer or USB charger for 30 minutes and you should be good to go.

Charging via controller: If you’re somewhere with your helicopter and don’t have access to a computer or USB charging station, you can still charge your Micro Lightning by syncing it with your controller. The copter will then start getting juice from the AA batteries in your controller instead. I recommend using rechargeable alkaline batteries on your controllers in order to save money if you plan tho make this your main charging option, though. Otherwise, it’s a nice option in a pinch.

CONS

Only for indoors: It only takes a 2.5-mile-per-hour winds to adversely affect your helicopter’s performance so Swann doesn’t recommend using it outdoors. That means you better have a relatively spacious house or apartment if you want to have enough leeway to fly this thing around. You can still use it in tight spaces. Just make sure you got the controls down pat to minimize running into stuff, especially hard surfaces that can damage the rotors or the helicopter itself. I also recommend landing it on carpet for that reason.

Battery life: I could only squeeze out 5 minutes of fly time with the Micro Lightning before the battery starts dying down. That’s a shame because flying this thing around is actually a lot of fun. The again, my brother’s cat — who apparently does not like RC copters — is likely quite ecstatic about the short battery life.

Fragile cable charger: The charging cable that comes with the Micro Lightning looks a bit delicate. I’ve had to finagle with its wire already to get it to light up just after a couple of uses. The light also doesn’t change color when fully charged so you’ll want to time your charging so you don’t shorten your battery life by leaving it plugged in too long.

Cheap-feeling remote: The remote looks and feels a bit plasticky. I could also hear a rattling sound inside when I move the remote, like a screw came loose or something.

Remote does not come with batteries: This is a pet peeve of mine, though I understand that throwing in the six batteries required by the Micro Lightning remote might add too much to the device’s price tag.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Although my brother’s cat would argue otherwise, I have to admit that flying this thing is a lot of fun. When you find yourself bummed because your copter is out of juice, that’s actually a good sign since it means that flying the contraption was quite enjoyable. The controls are easy to figure out and the Micro Lightning has a lot of zip moving forward so make sure you don’t ram it into objects by accident. Note that reverse movement can be tricky, especially when running low on power, since the helicopter dips downward when you do so. It does have its share of flaws. But flying the Micro Lightning is such a hoot that I was willing to overlook them. I think it’s quite neat and entertaining overall. Now if they can only improve that battery life...

SWANN MICRO LIGHTNING RC HELICOPTER

  • Final rating: 4 stars
  • Cost: MSRP is $59 but I've seen it cheaper online
  • Official site: www.swann.com/helicopters

 

Disclosure: Review samples were provided by the manufacturer. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.