Review: Griffin Technology HELO TC

Indoor helicopter to control with iPhone, iPad or iPod touch. (November 12th, 2011)

Griffin Technology makes a lot of useful stuff, but doesn’t ignore that unrequited desire to be a pilot in all of us. The iOS controlled HELO TC twin-rotor helicopter lets you fill those boring spaces with a fun indoors diversion.

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Product Manufacturer: Griffin Technology, Inc.

Price: $49.99 US

The Good

  • Cool - it's your own helicopter!
  • Inexpensive.
  • Includes Auto Land.
  • Surprisingly sturdy. -Comes with spare parts.

The Bad

  • Hard to fly well.
  • Not a toy that you will master in 10 minutes.
  • For indoors use only.

If you seek an entertaining and reasonably priced iOS device for the holiday season, consider an indoor helicopter. The Griffin HELO TC is a small, battery powered, remote control helicopter. You fly it with the help of an application on your iPhone, iPod Touch, or iPad.

The HELO TC measures about 8" from nose to tail, and the rotors are about 7" across when flying. You charge it via a custom USB cable. It should fly for about 8 minutes on a full charge, and then it requires about 40 minutes to recharge.

The free flight app requires a small, battery powered infrared transceiver that clips onto your iOS device, and connects via the headphone jack. Griffin suggests that you put your iPhone into "Airplane Mode" while controlling the HELO TC, because an incoming call causes the HELO TC to fly erratically. Similarly, playing music on the iOS device while flying is right out.

HELO TC

The controller takes 4 AAA batteries, which you have to supply. The directions to insert the batteries are somewhat confusing. The good news is that once you look, there are only two ways to put them in - and if you get it wrong the first time, you will get it right the second time.

In addition to the batteries, you need the flight app from the iTunes store. It comes in two styles, one for iPhone and iPod Touch, and the other for the iPad. Both versions are free. After you download the app, you sync it to your iOS device.

You must slide the controller onto your iOS device. It has clips to hold it in place. I found it necessary to remove my iPhone case; but I suspect that this is not true for all cases. The cable from the controller plugs into the headphone jack of your device.

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Controller and Controller with iPhone


By the time you've finished, the HELO TC is probably fully charged. You can tell it is charged because the blue light in the USB charging cable goes out.

HELO TC


Once you've finished the preparations, you're cleared for takeoff. You should use a fairly large area; this is not something that you want to fly in a small or cluttered room, especially the first time. You will bang into things - plan for it.

The HELO TC App

The app, updated to version 1.1.1 in October, gives you three basic controls - or rather, there are three controls that you should use the first time. The first one is a slider on the left that controls the amount of lift that the HELO TC generates. The HELO TC can rise (and fall) fairly quickly. My advice is to go easy on the throttle at first. The second control is a dial that lets you steer, which takes a bit of practice. The third, and most useful control for beginners is a red button that automatically lands the HELO TC for you. This is really helpful when you get frustrated or the HELO TC is flying away from you and you can't get it to come back. When you hit the "land automatically" button, it gently lands and turns off. Then you can start over and figure out what you were doing wrong.

HELO TC App

HELO TC App Controls


There is a second steering mode in the app, where instead of a joystick-like control, you can tilt the iOS device to steer. In my flying, I found this mode much harder to use.

HELO TC App

HELO TC App Control Options


The app also gives you the option of recording what it calls a flight plan for later playback. I think that's a misnomer, because what it does is record a series of actions, and plays it back. This is a nice feature. You can fly a trick flight while recording it, and then play back the flight later for your friends.

Helicopter in Action

Sometimes, I could not get the HELO TC to respond to the controller. I don't know if that was because I was not pointing the controller right at the HELO TC , which can be hard to do when it is moving rapidly. This is especially true if you tilt the iPhone to control flight. I did test the HELO TC outside, even though that is recommended, and if the IR communication from the controller is swamped by sunlight, it doesn't work correctly.

The HELO TC is surprisingly sturdy. I crashed it several times, and each time it sustained no damage. However, it is just plastic, and I'm sure that you can break it without too much trouble. Griffin even includes replacement rotor blades and directions on how to replace a broken one.

I enjoyed using the HELO TC, but cautiously recommend it for your holiday gift list. It's an indoor toy, so you need to have a sparsely populated room in which to safely use it. Griffin Technology suggests it is for those 14 and up that it "will not work properly with devices purchased in the EU, the UK, or any other region with volume limitations that cannot be turned off."

Edited by Ilene Hoffman, Reviews Editor

by Marshall Clow


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