Having made drones easy enough for even a child to fly, Spin Master has taken one of its quadcopters -- which impressed us in the past -- and turned it into a flying version of Star Trek's USS Enterprise. You don't need any Starfleet training to take the controls, but you will want to spend a bit of time practicing piloting your starship.
Instead of warp engines and anti-gravity technology to keep it aloft, Spin Master's USS Enterprise NCC-1701-A uses the same propulsion technology that every other quadcopter uses: a set of four spinning propellers.
Is it a bird? Is it a plane? Neither, it's a starship. But rather than having them stick out from the sides, the four propellers are cleverly hidden inside the Enterprise's saucer section. They're not completely hidden from view, since the props still need to move air, but Spin Master has done a good job at recreating the iconic ship's saucer section using a protective plastic cage. And while it might look frail, the plastic used is surprisingly durable having survived countless Klingon attacks during our testing -- OK, I just crashed it a lot.
The rest of the ship, including its hull and warp engine nacelles, are made from lightweight foam and look quite authentic. When viewed from the right angle with a steady hand at the controls, watching the replica fly can genuinely look like a scene from one of the movies or TV series. Spin Master impressively managed to balance the details with making a replica that actually flies.
Trying to pilot a flying toy with a touchscreen is an act of futility, physical controllers are always the way to go. To keep the prices down, a lot of toy drones available now rely on an app running on the user's smartphone or tablet as the controller. But anyone who's actually tried to fly one of them quickly realises that a touchscreen is a terrible alternative to physical controls.
Thankfully, Spin Master includes a Star Trek-themed physical controller with its USS Enterprise that includes two joysticks for steering and manoeuvring the drone, shoulder buttons that trigger sound effects from the original TV series, and adjustment buttons that help ensure the craft doesn't drift.
No screwdrivers needed to open the controller's battery compartment. I'm also going to award some bonus points because the panel that provides access to the controller's four AA batteries doesn't require you to hunt down a tiny screwdriver to open. Simply pressing a small button, using a pen or pencil tip, causes the panel to spring open making it easy to swap out batteries when they're dead.
Even with a physical controller in your hands, piloting the USS Enterprise will still require quite a bit of practice, particularly if you've never played with a quadcopter or other flying toy before.
To boldly go where no drone has gone before. Keeping it aloft is easy, the Enterprise almost flies itself and is incredibly stable once it takes to the air. But steering it where you want it to go -- or more often than not, away from obstacles -- is a whole other challenge. You'll want to find yourself a wide open place, like a park, gymnasium, or large room devoid of TVs or other expensive obstacles, for your first few test runs.
If you're heading outside, you'll also want to make sure the weather is mostly calm. A slight breeze didn't cause too many headaches while I was taking the Enterprise for a spin, but it was thrown off course by the occasional strong wind thanks to the added styrofoam hull and warp engines that ended up acting like tiny sails.
Start filming your own Star Trek TV series. Before you get the hang of piloting it, the Enterprise is going to crash -- a lot. However, I didn't even come close to breaking it. The plastic cage that makes up the saucer section does a great job at absorbing impacts, and protecting the propellers. I stopped wincing after the fourth or fifth crash, realising the toy wasn't as frail as it first appeared.
This is about as much damage as I was able to cause. The only real problem I encountered after a less-than-graceful landing was occasionally one of the flexible propellers would get caught in the saucer's plastic cage, requiring us to run over and free it before the drone could take off again -- an easy fix.
Spin Master's USS Enterprise won't be available for another month, somewhere around July 1. But for Star Trek fans tired of toy shelves packed full of Star Wars merchandise, it's a genuinely unique collectible. At $US130 ($179) it isn't cheap, and the spacecraft isn't quite as fast or manoeuvrable as more expensive drones, but it's a faithful recreation of the USS Enterprise NCC-1701-A that can actually boldly go where plenty of men have gone before.
Flying at night might not be the safest idea, but it's the best way to see the USS Enterprise all lit up.
- Very stable when flying, but you will need some time to practice flying your Enterprise, particularly in windy conditions.
- Includes a physical controller with joysticks so you don't have to pilot it using a smartphone app and frustrating touchscreen controls.
- The access panel on the controller's battery compartment is screw-free, so swapping batteries doesn't require your toolbox.
- Occasionally the drone's propellers will get stuck in the saucer's protective cage, but otherwise the USS Enterprise is remarkably durable.
- At $US130 ($179) it's priced more for Star Trek fans and older toy collectors.