Building A Tribute Version Of Mattel’s VertiBird Toy

Mattel had a ton of hit toys in the 20th century. In the early 1970s, the VertiBird was one of them, letting kids pretend to fly a helicopter in circles on their loungeroom floor. An original VertiBird can be hard to come by these days, but what if you could make your own? Well, [Gord Payne] did just that!

The design of the VertiBird is simple enough that it’s easy to replicate with a 3D printer. It features a helicopter on a rod that spins around a central base. The helicopter itself has a rotor powered by a motor, with variable speed control to vary the lift it produces. The helicopter’s flight can be controlled in a circular path around the base using throttle and pitch controls. [Gord’s] build was inspired by an earlier replica from [Luke J Barker] and borrows some parts from it, too. However, this build uses an ATTiny85 microcontroller to control the helicopter’s tilt and direction with the aid of a servo.

It’s great to see this classic toy recreated from scratch, particularly given the enormous cost of original sets these days. It’s also great fun to watch [Gord] execute an aerial rescue with the toy, too. Video after the break.

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Classic Toy Helicopter Flies Again As DIY Version

For many of us who grew up in the 1970s, “VertiBird”, the fly-it-yourself indoor helicopter, was a toy that was begged for often enough that it eventually appeared under the Christmas tree. And more than a few of the fascinating but delicate toys were defunct by Christmas afternoon, victims of the fatal combination of exuberant play and price-point engineering. But now a DIY version of the classic toy flies again, this time with a more robust design.

To be fair to the designers at Mattel, the toy company that marketed VertiBird, the toy was pretty amazing. The plastic helicopter was powered by a motor located in the central base, which rotated a drive rod that ran through a stiff tether. Small springs in the base and at the copter acted as universal joints to transmit power to the rotor. These springs were the weak point in the design, especially the one in the base, often snapping in two.

[Luke J. Barker]’s redesign puts a tiny gear motor in the aircraft rather than in the base, something that wouldn’t have been feasible in the original. To address the problem of getting electrical power from the base to the aircraft, [Luke] eschewed an expensive slip ring and instead used a standard 3.5-mm audio jack and plug. The plug serves as an axle for the main gear in the base that powers the copter’s rotation; sadly, this version doesn’t tilt the aircraft mechanically to control backward and forward flight like the original. A pair of pots with 3D-printed levers control throttle and flight direction through an Arduino; see it in action in the video below.

These pages abound with rotorcraft builds, both helicopters and multirotor. We appreciate all manner of flying machines, but this one really takes us back.

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