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What Is an IR Helicopter?

By Alex Newth
Updated May 16, 2024
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An infrared (IR) helicopter is a remote-controlled toy that can fly, with the controller communicating with the helicopter using IR light. The controller emits light that delivers signals to the toy, telling it to go up or down; most controllers can be used without directly pointing them toward the toy. It is common for several people to use individual remote-control helicopters at the same time, so there are usually several channels on the controller. Most of these toys are made from plastic or foam, making them lightweight but not very durable. Battery life tends to be short, and the battery will often need recharging.

To control an IR helicopter, it needs to be able to receive an IR signal; this comes from the controller. The controller often flashes the infrared light, rather than shoot a beam of light, so the controller can be used without pointing it at the toy. This light acts as a signal that the helicopter interprets as an order to start, move forward, or change altitude. Most controllers are effective for 82 to 98 feet (25 to 30 meters), so the helicopters can go a relatively long distance for their small size.

It is not uncommon for owners to get together and fly several remote-control helicopters together, but this can create a problem. The helicopter controllers emit IR light over a certain wavelength, and the toy is made to respond to this wavelength. If two IR helicopters on the same wavelength are flown near each other, they may become confused and take orders from the other user’s controller. To fix this, many controllers can function over the user's choice of channels, or wavelengths.

Aside from the internal components, such as the receiver and battery, an IR helicopter is typically made from either plastic or foam. The rotor and flybar are made from plastic, because foam would easily come apart when moving at the high speed needed for lift off. Either material can be used for the body; plastic is heavier but more durable, while foam is lighter, making it easier for the toy to ascend.

Compared to charging time, the battery life tends to be short for a toy helicopter. Most can fly for about six to ten minutes before needing to be recharged. Recharging time is typically from 15 to 60 minutes, which is considerably longer than the average flight time. The controller uses much less power, so it will be fine for hours or days before the batteries need to be recharged or replaced.

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Discussion Comments
By istria — On Sep 24, 2011

@Georgesplane- I have never taken my RC copters outside to fly, but they are great fun when you are sitting around in a dorm room killing time. We set up colored plastic cups into pyramids and have helicopter battles. Each team tries to guard its pile of cups while attempting to knock over the other teams pile. I have flown mine into walls, the television, and doors and it has not broken yet. I am halfway through the semester and satisfied with my little RC toys.

By aplenty — On Sep 24, 2011

@valleyfiah- I have had the "falling out of the sky" problem too. The range seems like it is much shorter than what the packaging claimed. The first time I used it, it fell and one of the skids broke off. I had to fix it with model glue. I was not expecting to perform repairs on the toy after the first flight.

It is also easily pushed by a stiff wind. I have had the chopper pushed into bushes by brisk wind gusts. Not so much fun here in Arizona since most of the bushes you find are chock full of thorns.

By ValleyFiah — On Sep 23, 2011

@georgesplane- I bought one of those micro helicopters for my child and he broke it within three days. Now I am not saying that they are all bad, but I have had a bad experience with the little micro IR helicopters. The range is short, and if you fly it out of range, or do not have close to a direct line of sight between the helicopter and the controller, the helicopter will practically fall out of the sky and break.

Granted, I will say that my son's helicopter broke this way, but it did fall out of the air a few times. The helicopter actually broke when the rotor motor seized up. I was a little disappointed that I spent thirty dollars on something that did not make it through the week.

By Georgesplane — On Sep 22, 2011

How fast do these helicopters fly? Are they fairly stable in windy conditions, or are they likely to crash often? How durable are these toy helicopters? I was thinking about purchasing one for my nephew, but I do not want to get him a toy that will just turn to junk in a few weeks. I see them in the mall at the little kiosks all the time, but I never stop because I do not want to get sucked into the sales pitch. I would appreciate any first hand experiences with these types of toys.

By GlassAxe — On Sep 22, 2011

I bought my son an IR helicopter and I find that i fly it around the house more than he does. They are such neat toys, and are far cheaper than the remote controlled toys that were available when I was a kid. The toy helicopters from my childhood were expensive, hard to control and honestly a little dangerous. They were meant more for a park setting than flying around the house and yard.

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