If you were a kid growing up in the ’70s, you might remember the Vertibird. This was my all-time favorite toy. The Vertibird was a real model helicopter. Although it was tethered to a control arm, you could still control power and forward and backward movement. The control arm itself was not powered, all lift came from the spinning of the helicopter blades, so in that way it really was an accurate albeit limited simulation of a real helicopter.
The Vertibird was powered by 4 D-cell batteries, and I went through those like crazy (that was in the days before rechargeable batteries). Since my dad was footing the bill, he got wise and had an electrical engineer friend of his make a conversion box so that my Vertibird would run off of a model train power supply, with wires alligator-clipped to the battery connections of the Vertibird. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I probably had one of the only AC-powered Vertibirds in the world.
My Vertibird eventually stopped working, and Mattel eventually stopped making them. They are now sought-after collector’s items, and good-condition specimens go for hundreds of dollars on eBay. However, thanks to a generous fellow named Peter Hirschberg you can experience the Vertibird for free. Peter has written an amazingly accurate computer simulation of the Vertibird that runs on Windows, and has released it for no charge. He even included the Styrofoam Rescue Ship option as an add-on!
Although Mattel doesn’t make the Vertibird any longer, I have seen modern versions of it in toy stores. In particular, there is one called Command Force which comes in both 24″ (roughly the size of the original Vertibird) and 12″ sizes. The 12″ version is only $10 at Target, hmmmm…