Sunday, July 8, 2012

How (Not) to Fly a Toy Helicopter

First, due to your four-year-old’s latest object of fascination, acquire a remote control helicopter. Though the package indicates “age 14+,” and though your son is a whole decade shy of the age requirement, figure that 4-year-old + dad = successful helicopter flight. Unfortunately, as you will soon discover, the package fails to mention that in addition to being 14+, one needs also to be in possession of a helicopter pilot’s license with 500+ hours of flight time logged. Thus, you will learn that 14 + several decades + a college education and innumerable talents – helicopter flying experience does not = successful helicopter operation.

But don’t get ahead of yourself. Flying a helicopter is a serious undertaking. Take this one step at a time. And whatever you do, do not read the instructions. I repeat: do not read the instructions. They will not help you. They will only terrify you. Or baffle you. Or astonish you. But already you’re peeking at the cover. You note that your “R/C Helicopter Using Instruction” warns: “To avoid copter’s damage and player’s injury, please read this instruction before flying!” Yes, the exclamation point seems emphatic, but don’t do it!!

I know: you can’t resist. You open the Using Instruction. Just remember: I warned you. As the four-year-old and his dad begin to disentomb the helicopter from its Styrofoam sarcophagus, you read out loud with the seven-year-old looking over your shoulder. “Safety regulations,” you begin. “One: Placed in small parts of the reach of children, to avoid accidents.”

“Mom, I think that says to put small parts in the reach of children to avoid accidents,” the seven-year-old observes.

“Hmm, yes, that’s how I would read it,” you comment.

“Well luckily,” the seven-year-old says wryly, “Dad already did that.” She points at the baggies of various miniscule parts clutched in the four-year-old’s hands.

“Great, so we’re safe,” you say and keep reading. “Two: The blades of this helicopter is used activities blades, don’t screw up.”

“You got that, Dad?” says the seven-year-old. “Don’t screw up.”

You notice that the four-year-old is beginning to look nervous, but you plod on. “Three: The helicopter was powerful, should be gradually pushed up the remote control shift lever on the left for first flight, to avoid the surge caused the helicopter crash damage.”

“Crash damage,” echoes the seven-year-old. “That sounds bad.”

You decide to skip ahead. “Six: Note that when the helicopter to keep the user or other persons from 2-3 m to avoid the helicopter flight, landing crashed into another person’s head, face and body and so on.”

The four-year-old’s face takes on a blanched, stricken expression. “Maybe I should stop reading this out loud,” you say.

With the helicopter finally free of its plastic fetters, the four-year-old and his dad begin to examine the remote control. “We’ll have to charge it,” your husband observes. “What does it say about charging?”

Against your better judgment, you begin reading again. “Don’t soak the toys in the water, or the electronic parts will be destructed,” you offer. “Do not use the battery slam or beating hard surface.”

“I should have clarified,” your husband interrupts. “What useful information is there about charging?”

“Iron core device charging time: can be 240~250 minutes flying about 7~8 minutes!” you say. “In case my voice didn’t carry the inflection, there’s an exclamation point at the end of that sentence.”

“That’s because that’s over half an hour of charging time for every minute of flight time,” your husband observes. “The writers of the Using Instruction were expressing their shock and outrage.”

When the four-year-old learns that you have to charge the helicopter for an inordinately long time, he seems oddly relieved. He becomes jovial, talkative.

“Mom, what did people use for batteries in the olden days?”

“People didn’t use batteries in the olden days,” you reply. “Those lucky ducks.”

“So everything was kid-powered?” he clarifies.

“Kid-powered, grownup-powered, sometimes horse-powered. Maybe mule-powered.”

“Maybe frog-powered,” the four-year-old offers. “Snake-powered. Worm-powered.”

This desultory conversation will go on for awhile; if possible, prolong it for 240~250 minutes. Otherwise, bake blueberry muffins, draw construction equipment with chalk on the sidewalk, take a nap, and trap some sow bugs in a jar and bombard them with crumbs from the aforementioned muffins for their afternoon snack.

Finally, when the helicopter is charged, follow your family into the backyard. You might as well bring along the Using Instruction even though it will be of absolutely no use. Still, it may give you comfort to have something to grip in your sweaty hands. Watch as your husband sets the helicopter in the center of the yard and moves back holding the remote control. You see that the children are clutching one another’s hands on the patio, staying as near to the house as possible. Note that their instincts are good.

Due to your nervous habit of reading anything at hand during moments of great tension, you open the Using Instruction. “Maybe we should read the ‘Ready to fly’ section,” you offer. “One: Please recheck the ground, keep away from the crowds, animals and other barriers.”

“Animals are barriers?” the seven-year-old asks.

“To a helicopter,” you reply. “Two: Push the motive handle must be pushed to the maximum control route of travel first, then adjust it to the lowest.”

But you husband is no longer listening. He’s pushing levers on the remote control, and something is happening to the helicopter. It seems to be jumping back and forth, lifting its front up and then its rear, front and rear, like a person rocking from his toes to his heels.

“The spinners are going,” you observe.

“Those are rotors,” the four-year-old corrects you as he clings to his sister for dear life.

“I have a trim problem,” your husband mutters. “I can’t seem to control the pitch and yaw.”

“There’s nothing in here about pitching and yawing,” you observe. “There’s a section called ‘Helicopter control ways.’” You study the diagram. “Is your spinner going clockwise or anticlockwise?”

“Rotor,” says the four-year-old.

“Shouldn’t it be counterclockwise?” says the seven-year-old.

“I think anticlockwise might be British,” you reply.

“Did the British write those instructions?” she asks.

“I most certainly hope not,” you say. “OK. Does this help? ‘When the helicopter tail presents the clockwise rotation, you may the counterclockwise rotation you in the hand the remote control vernier adjustment knob until balanced.’”

“Yes, well, the vernier adjustment knob seems to be too sensitive,” your husband replies, and suddenly the helicopter launches into the air, ascending at an astonishing rate to twenty feet, thirty, where it begins to careen crazily, as if dodging imaginary fire. Without warning, it heads towards the neighbor’s yard and, as if on a suicide mission, crashes into an oak tree.

“DADDY, IS MY HELICOPTER BROKEN?” shrieks the four-year-old.

“Your dad’s going to go get it,” you tell your son while his dad goes tromping off into the vegetation at the property line where the helicopter has crash landed.

Surprisingly, the helicopter is unscathed, and your husband decides to give it another try. The children wrap their arms around one another in a full-on embrace. Again, the helicopter does its heel-to-toe Irish dance in preparation for its sudden ascent. This time, it begins to fly toward the house and the patio while your husband is frantically jamming the levers on the control. The kids watch it, wide eyed, and at the last minute it seems to plummet from the sky and fly straight for them just a couple of feet above their heads, as though intending to strafe them. They skitter away and take cover under the table while the helicopter zooms past them and clatters onto the patio.

“DADDY, THAT’S ENOUGH FLYING MY HELICOPTER!” screeches the four-year-old.

Your husband comes over and sets down the remote control. “I think I need to fly it into the wind,” he observes. “But we can take a break.”

Presently, the four-year-old comes out from under the table. He looks pale, shaken.

“How did people fly in the olden days?” he asks you.

“Not well at all,” you tell him.

The four-year-old nods, perhaps wishing he had lived in that simpler time, a time without batteries or human flight, a time when the world was powered by worms.

“Let’s go play in the sandbox,” the seven-year-old suggests. She takes her brother’s hand and leads him to the wooden sandbox that your husband built.

“I think if I took it to an open field,” you husband is saying, examining the rotors on the helicopter. “I think I could get the hang of it.” He picks up the Using Instruction that you’ve put on the table and begins to leaf through it with a determined glint in his eye. You can see that he and the helicopter have embarked on a long, contentious relationship. Don’t bother to say anything; it won’t do any good. Just allow the man-versus-helicopter plot to play itself out to the bitter end. Hope for the best. A few more crashes into trees just might do the helicopter in. Don’t consider the alternative.

“Mom!” the four-year-old calls from the sandbox. “What were wood and sand made of in the olden days?”

“Wood and sand,” you call back, “have always been made of wood and sand! They can never be improved on!”

And fortunately, they require no Using Instruction.

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