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.