Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Spring, and Cute Little Ornithopters, Are In The Air

Wowwee Butterfly

Remote controlled airplanes for younger kids present a difficult prospect. Since they operate in three dimensions, complexity of control increases dramatically. Even seemingly simple operations like tossing a foam plane in to the air while juggling a two-hand controller challenges small hands' nascent manual dexterity.

Enter the Wowwee Butterfly, the little sister of last year's excellent Wowwee Dragonfly. Targeted to younger kids, the plane charges on and takes off from a hand-held launcher, creating a simple way to get the plane airborne. Notice I said launcher, not controller. The Butterfly flies on autopilot the moment it takes off, thanks to a rudder fixed permanently to the left. Basically, the Butterfly shoots off the launcher and flutters in a circle.

I took the kids outside and let them play with it. Jack (2.5) and Rosie (almost 4) found it sufficient to run around screaming excitedly as the Butterfly fluttered around. Eileen, 12, was more interested in maximizing flight time by launching while standing on a chair or by letting it charge an extra long time. The biggest challenge for all three was finessing the launcher's trigger -- pull halfway to charge, pull all the way to release the spring that hurls the Butterfly into the air. For a giddy kid with a new toy, fine motor control tends to suffer a bit.

Users expecting a more robust flying experience may find the Butterfly's limitations irksome, but they're missing the point. This baby isn't for HobbyZone Super Cub flyers, or even for Dragonfly owners. Think of the Butterfly as training wheels for the 4- to 7-year-old set (Wowwee suggests 6+) who simply aren't ready for the real deal. Easy to charge and launch, and durable enough to withstand multiple hard landings, the Butterfly is a great toy for little kids.

The Butterfly can be purchased at Wal-Mart stores, and "mosquito" and "moth" variants are scheduled.

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