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Interactive Toy - iFLY VAMP Radio Controlled Bat

Interactive Toy Concepts sells a variety of radio controlled (R/C) vehicles, especially helicopters and planes (more to come).

Perhaps the most amazing is the iFLY VAMP, a radio controlled ornithopter -- which means an aircraft that flies by flapping its wings. There's no propellers, no jet engines, just a small bat-like toy flapping away.

The VAMP is designed as a somewhat nasty looking bat, with glowing eyes. The body is basically ultra light foam (11.7 grams), with wings of thin plastic sheets. It has a wingspan of around 12 inches, with the body some 10 inches long. It's available at a variety of retailers in the U.S. and Canada for around $39.99.

You'd think there would be no hope of controlling such an animal, but the VAMP is quite stable in flight, and has full directional control and proportional speed. With no action on your part, it can continue flying forward, and if you ease off the throttle it comes down calmly for a relatively gentle landing.

We're not quite to the level of precision control shown in this promo video ...

More on flying the VAMP ...

To fly the VAMP, get a friend to help launch it gently in the air while the wings are flapping at full speed. Push the throttle (left stick) forward and back to control the rate of flapping, and therefore the height -- aiming for around 8 to 10 feet off the ground. Move the directional control (right stick) left and right to turn.

However, first clear a large area in which to experiment, as this bird can move like a bat out of you-know-where if you let it loose. Interactive recommends a 50 x 50 feet area, or a minimum of 16 x 16 feet indoors with a 20 foot ceiling.

In our testing, even pre-teen kids were able to keep the VAMP somewhat constrained in the back yard, but one exuberant mom quickly sent it up to the third story of the house, and then flew it out through the front yard into the street. That was her last flight.

The real issue for us was controlling the direction of flight. The VAMP seemed happy to fly in lazy circles without any direction, and yet seemed not particularly responsive to our input. One issue is simply that the body is so light that it really needs to be flown on a very calm day -- which may try your patience in waiting for the right time. Interactive also suggests applying lightweight mylar tape to the wings to counterbalance a tendency to turn.

Nonetheless, we've all had a fun time with the VAMP, from kids to adults. The cat also was particularly interested in chasing it, and even did a great leap to whap it out of the air. The VAMP survived, although the product does include a spare set of wings just in case.

The VAMP flies for around 10 minutes on a charge. The controller unit also serves as the charger, so it's larger and bulkier compared to the VAMP, with 6 AA batteries, a detachable antenna, and a flip-up adapter post to insert the VAMP for charging. The charge time is some 20 to 30 minutes. The battery compartment is actually screwed closed, so you'll need a Philips screwdriver to start your fun.

Manifest Tech Site