A long time ago I bought myself a small rc helicopter. It was quite tricky to fly and fairly limited in abilities. The battery life was poor and the batter was hardwired. All in all it was probably not the most awesome experience. Roll on perhaps 7/8 years and technology has moved on a great deal...
Last week I bought myself the hubsan x4, a cursory search shows this is a very popular micro-quadcopter and a recommended choice for a beginner to learn to fly quadcopters with. It is cheap enough and robust enough that it can handle a few crashes without a serious problem ;-)
It is a great little toy, very easy to get started with. It is so small that you can fly it around indoors easily enough. I almost immediately ordered extra batteries, because you can easily swap them over. So whilst each one lasts perhaps 8-10 minutes of flight, you can swap out a new batter in a few seconds and carry right on flying.
I took it up to the heath to have some fun flying outside. It was a pretty windy day and all credit to this tiny little flying machine, I was still able to control it and fly it around despite the wind. Though I did have to go into 'expert' mode. In normal mode I just wasn't able to tilt into the wind hard enough to move against it. I took some video and cut it together:
This was great fun, with the extra space to fly around in I tried a few things like the built in flips, (near the end of the video), I also launched it by throwing it into the air then powering up the props. That is a pretty amazing trick when you think about what is involved. It is a very small and really reasonably cheap machine, yet it can very rapidly, from a random throw, power up and gain stable flight.
I also did some stuff of taking off and landing on my hand, which again considering the generally windy conditions was pretty neat. The one thing I didn't get much of was stable footage at height, since the wind was tossing things around quite a lot.
I removed the worst of the wobbly sections, however it is easy to see how this could become addictive and lead to wanting bigger and more capable quadcopters. The Hubsan is good enough and fun enough to get a glimpse of the potential. The hubsan is a little skittish in the wind, and with the fixed camera the video is a little all over the place. In calmer conditions I could probably get more stretches of reasonable video, but it immediately makes you realise why bigger machines have gimbled mounts for their video.
Also watching the craft and flying it is fairly straight forward, but it can actually be quite tricky to keep the camera pointing where you want, because you have to constantly adjust your control to consider which way the x4 is pointing. It is much easier to keep it pointing away from you and just fly forward/back side/side, but then you only get footage in one direction and not necessarily what you want. This leads immediately to realising the allure of the 'FPV' quads which can stream video live to a screen, so you can choose to fly from its point of view.
For now I will have to remain content to keep practising with the x4. However I can see how easy it would be to get carried away...