This was originally published on my now defunct Home Drones site on January 15th 2015.
Syma’s Schweizer 300 2-channel RC helicopter is quite a common starter for the enthusiast thanks largely to its good size, model-like replication of a real aircraft (the Schweizer 300 also known as the Sikorsky 300 and Hughes 300) and it’s bargain price (new ones are around £30/$45 US). It was the helicopter I used to progress from flying small hand held RC helicopters around the living room to flying higher and further in the great outdoors.
So for a novice how good is this little classic from Syma?
Well I have had the aircraft for two years now and it is still in fine working order. Despite a somewhat flimsy feel to it when handling it the helicopter is surprisingly sturdy. It has suffered several hard landings and collisions with objects such as railings and fencing and it has survived all of these. Certainly a positive then for someone just starting out.
Gaining access to the helicopter’s motor and battery assembly is a simple affair with the plastic cockpit being easily removed. Two prongs protruding out of the fuselage frame fit into adjacent sockets on the cockpit and the plastic is pliant enough to pull it off without misshaping it. The cockpit needs removing in order to disconnect the battery when charging and a full charge takes three hours. Depending on the type of flight you undertake the aircraft is good for around ten minutes flight time (average for an aircraft of this size) which with multiple take offs and landings means a session typically lasts between ten and fifteen minutes.
Now perhaps the most important aspect for a novice: controllability.
It’s a 2-channel helicopter so anyone expecting to recreate scenes from Airwolf with it are going to be bitterly disappointed. Control is simply in the up/down and left/right modes. Direction is dictated entirely by the direction of the wind and being such a lightweight the slightest breeze will carry it away. In fact many retailers selling the helicopter advertise it as an indoor helicopter but I think short of knowing someone who owns an empty warehouse I can’t imagine where indoors this could be flown without destroying everything.
Without a doubt the biggest let-down of the helicopter is the lack of stabilisation. Instead there is a potentiometer on the side of the motor that can be adjusted by putting in a flat-head screwdriver however it takes a lot of practice to determine where to position it before a flight. You have to know how high you will be taking it in the flight in order to set it for the best effect.
Even so it will spend the vast majority of its flight time spinning as you learn both setting the potentiometer and how much left/right stick you need to give it to stabilize it. I have found that when the battery is around 50-75% it becomes far more controllable in this respect and it’s around this time that the best flights can be achieved. It also helps that by that time you should have become accustomed to the atmospheric conditions.
I don’t understand why Syma went down this route. There are smaller and cheaper helicopters that are stabilised so it can’t be a cost thing although I will say that those smaller helicopters are almost always co-axial whereas this has a main and tail rotor. Co-axial layouts counteract one another making them more stable. For the novice this can be frustrating and many early flights will feel like a waste of time. However as I persisted with it and began to master controlling it I felt a strong sense of accomplishment with it and that is priceless I can assure you.
The tail rotor arrangement in this helicopter does have another negative in that on all but the flattest surfaces it often catches the ground during take-off. Other than that achieving flight is relatively easy and its little motor has more than enough power to send it shooting upwards like a homesick angel. Just hit up on the throttle with the left thumb and try to keep it stable with the right thumb on the tail rotor control.
Once you have mastered wrestling with keeping it stable the best way to achieve a good flight is to determine the direction of the wind and put a decent distance in front of you in that direction. Once airborne the challenge then is to get the helicopter to face the direction of flight. Keeping it stable is easy in comparison and you will often find it travelling sideways or in reverse on the wind.
Landing is also quite straightforward but it has a knack to it. This is not an RC helicopter where you can just lower the power and watch it descend. It seems like its full power or no power so the best approach to landing is let it descend but intermittently turn up the power to slow it down before dropping the power again and then repeating. To that end, landing involves a stepped approach. As I said earlier it is surprisingly sturdy and has taken its fair share of hard landings and is still in working order.
One minor complaint I have is that the stickers used to decorate the cockpit were of poor quality and if they weren’t already coming off when taking it out of the box then they didn’t quite fit properly. In the end I simply took them off.
So in conclusion is it a good helicopter for beginners? If you are after a helicopter with a steep learning curve that will make your next helicopter seem easy by comparison then yes. However for the casual enthusiast not yet addicted to the hobby then I would say this won’t make you a believer.