Remote control helicopters have always been complex and expensive, at least until the Micro Mosquito by Interactive Toy Concepts flew onto the stage. Now, for less than $70, you too can own the world’s smallest, lightest, and most stable helicopter. In this article, we are going to examine this miniature device and explain how it works, plus expose its guts for your viewing pleasure.
How Does a Normal Helicopter Fly?
The helicopter is one of the most complex and difficult airborne vehicles you can operate. This is because the helicopter has the unique quality of being able to move in three-dimensional space, hover, and rotate in place. To accomplish this, the operator must maintain a focused, constant interaction with the controls using both hands and feet, or it will crash. To put this in perspective, a car really only has two controls that an operator needs to worry about—the steering wheel and the gas and brake pedals. These controls can be easily managed with one foot and one hand. On the other hand, a helicopter requires the operator to use his or her left foot, right foot, and both hands at all times; if the operator’s attention waivers for even a few seconds, the results could be disastrous.
While the controls of the helicopter are complex, they only represent the intricate mechanical design that allows this vehicle to fly. In short, the helicopter must be able to maintain a delicate balance of "lift" and "thrust" to keep it moving through the air. The lift is created by spinning the helicopter’s blade on a rotor, which then "lifts" the helicopter into the air.
Another unique aspect about how a helicopter flies is that once it lifts off the ground, the body of the helicopter will have a nature inclination to start to spin. This is a natural reaction that is a result of the torque that is created by the force of the moving blades. You can experience this same type of torque if you try to spin in an office chair by twisting your body. When your body spins one way, the torque causes the chair to spin the opposite direction. To prevent this from occurring, conventional helicopters employ a tail rotor that is connected to the vehicle via a boom. This tail rotor is much like an airplane’s prop and is used to control the helicopter’s spin. In other words, it prevents uncontrollable spinning, but at the same time also allows the pilot to manually spin the helicopter in a desired direction.
The last major functional aspect of a helicopter is to understand the significance of the angle of attack. Stop for a moment and think about how the helicopter goes up and down. Many assume that the speed of the rotor controls this particular aspect of how the helicopter flies—the faster the blades spin, the more lift is created. However, in the case of conventional helicopters, the physics of such a system would fail. Instead, each helicopter blade is dynamically tilted to increase or decrease the angle of attack—the steeper the angle of attack, or angle of the blade, the more lift is created.
The "angle of attack" feature is also used to allow the helicopter to move left, right, forward, and backward. This is possible because each blade on a helicopter is able to have a different angle of attack via the use of swash plate assembly. Simply put, the plate assembly allows the blades to dynamically change their angle of attack as they rotate. For example, to move the helicopter forward, each blade will increase their angle of attack as it approaches the backside of the helicopter. This increases the lift on that one blade and raises the backend, thus moving the helicopter forward. As the blade continues on through the rotation, its angle of attack is reduced.