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Remote Control Shark

Air Swimmers eXtreme Radio Control Giant Flying Nemo

Air Swimmers eXtreme Radio Control Giant Flying Shark

Air Swimmers eXtreme

Those of you old enough to remember the 1970s surely remember the impact the Peter Benchley novel Jaws and subsequent Steven Spielberg movie had on the American psyche. NBC-TV's Saturday Night Live followed suit with a series of skits involving the "land shark," a shark that would knock on some unwary victim's door, announce itself as a "candy gram" or "pizza delivery" in a muffled voice and would then eat the victim head first upon opening the door.

Toward the end of the decade, the ABC-TV sitcom Happy Days had the dubious honor of introducing the phrase "jumping the shark" into the lexicon.

Today, in addition to the annual "Shark Week" promotion on cable's Discovery Channel, we have the Air Swimmers Remote Control Flying Shark.

Flying shark...?

Yes, indeed. Actually, this rather fun representation of what appears to be the famous great white shark, or Carcharodon carcharias, is a brilliantly engineered remote controlled blimp which "swims" through the air much like a fish swims through water, that is, by flapping its tail. Since air is a fluid, it stands to reason that something suitably buoyant would be able to swim through it.

One of my best friends in the world is Jeff Brock. He and his wife Cindy are SoCal natives like me and the two relocated to Cumming, Georgia some years back. Our relationship actually dates back to the "Jaws" era when the two of us worked as teenagers at Montgomery Ward in Torrance, California. We stay in touch via e-mail on an almost daily basis; one recent e-mail was a link to a video on which demonstrated both the shark and its less intimidating cousin, the Air Swimmers Remote Control Flying Clownfish.

This, thought I, was something worth reviewing. Some quick internet searching led me to the William Mark Corporation of Claremont, California, makers of Air Swimmers and the X-Zylo flying ring. It also led me to the inventor of Air Swimmers, Blake English. Blake is an RCGroups patron who already had a discussion thread underway, found here. He got back to me almost immediately with the promise of providing a review sample.

I had to ask for the shark. Jaws beats Nemo hands down in my less-than-humble-opinion; I'm reminded of the interaction between Nemo and Bruce the Shark in Finding Nemo when I see the Air Swimmers demo video.

In this instance, Nemo is at least as big as Jaws/Bruce; no need to worry about this fish becoming food! Assembly is similar between the two versions and operation is identical. It's also really quick. We'll have this shark swimming across the living room in no time, so cue the creepy, ominous music and let's get busy! For the clownfish version, Bobby Darin's rendition of "Beyond The Sea" is a must.

The compact display box which can later serve as a mooring station has almost everything you'll need to get your shark flying:
High-strength nylon balloon main body
Reusable ballast putty
Two-channel IR remote control with mooring hook
Combination receiver and pitch control
Preassembled tail fin drive assembly
Diecut double-sided tape strips and clear reinforcement strips
Custom-fit rubber bands and hooks to retain the tail fin drive
Preassembled pectoral, tail and dorsal fins
Ribbon for mooring
You'll need the follwing:
Undiluted helium from a florist, party store or supermarket's floral department. A prefilled helium cylinder available from party stores and box store retailers may be used, but it must be pure helium and not the helium/air mix sometimes sold
Small phillips screwdriver
Four AAA-cell batteries
An assistant to hold the balloon during the assembly phases

Some good old-fashioned pure helium is needed here; the balloon is inflated via a regular party balloon-styled valve at the rear.

The young woman at the Vons supermarket in Yucca Valley, California was utterly amused by the notion of a flying shark with a photo-realistic mouth and she had the balloon inflated tight with five bucks' worth of helium in no time. Such a large balloon required her to give me a large weight at the end of a ribbon (molded in the shape of a happy face, no less) to prevent a flyaway; this weight proved to be a real keeper to assist in mooring the finished, um, fish.

It also proved to be invaluable in keeping the balloon moored during most of the assembly process, especially when I didn't have an assistant handy.

I should point out that after a couple of days, the balloon started to lose helium. Rather than haul the entire assembled blimp back to the supermarket, I picked up a Balloon Time party balloon kit from the Walmart Supercenter in Palm Springs, California one evening after work. It came with a disposable steel cylinder filled with pure helium for less than US$20. A very brief burst from the cylinder reinflated the balloon, so unless it's totally deflated, one of these disposable tanks ought to last quite a long time. By comparison, a small commercial-grade cylinder from a gas distributor would have been well over $100 plus the helium. As of this writing, I must have done a good job of resealing the valve since there's been no noticeable loss of helium over the last several days. The balloon is made of nylon, not mylar like a toy balloon. This may have something to do with it.

Speaking of helium, please don't breathe the stuff. Yes, it makes you sound like a Munchkin and yes, I've done it countless times during my lifetime, but that light-headed feeling you get is the result of your brain being starved of oxygen.

An oxygen-starved brain is a bad thing. Bad. Again, please don't huff the helium. Thanks.

he manual, though well-written, suffered a bit from some drawings which didn't make sense to me at first. Everything later made sense once I viewed the amusing and informative online assembly video at A narrator in a wet suit (I'll assume it's inventor Blake English) assembles an Air Swimmers shark from start to finish. The manual itself encourages one to view the instructions right at the top of page one; it's a few minutes well spent.

I'd been in touch with Blake after the first draft of this review was completed. He informed me that a revamped instruction manual was in the works, one with improved drawings and steps that will make it easier for a single person to assemble the Air Swimmer.

The dorsal fin and pectoral fins attach to marked areas of the balloon with the aid of double-sided tape patches and transparent tape patches used to reinforce the attachment atop the part. Pads are applied to the receiver/pitch control slider at this time as well. A second dorsal fin is provided with the clownfish version and it was a good thing that the sheet of double-sided tape had that fourth pad.

I never would have thought it possible to use tems like "dorsal fin," "pectoral fin," "shark" and "clownfish" in the context of an RCGroups review. This may well be an historic internet moment.

Though the pads are diecut, they're somewhat difficult to remove from the sheet and I wound up sticking one of the pads to itself. Once in place, they do a great job of holding the fins to the balloon. A notched, tooth-shaped clear reinforcement (human, not shark) fits atop the base of each fin and helps to secure them from the top. These too are difficult to remove and rather thin, so they should be handled carefully to prevent them from sticking to themselves.

During the course of our e-mail correspondence, Blake told me that the Air Swimmers are undergoing continuous improvement. The company has since switched to a stronger, thicker clear tape similar to postal-grade packing tape. These tapes are also easier to remove from the backing and strong enough to be peeled apart if folded against themselves. They've even changed the shape of some of the tapes to aid installation.

Some hobby shops have reported that using CA to glue the hooks to the balloon works well, but that would of course be a permanent installation.

That's what I call customer service and I applaud Blake and his crew for not simply sitting on their laurels.

With the fins in place, the balloon stopped looking like some bizarre football-shaped party favor with a shark's face to something resembling a three-dimensional model shark.

Four hooks used to secure the drive assembly to the rear of the balloon are installed in the same manner as the fins with the openings of the hooks facing toward the nose of the balloon. Call your assistant into the room to help hold the balloon; it has a tremendous amount of lift, there's no place to grab onto the balloon and you'll need both hands to attach the hooks as well as the hold-down tapes. I later discovered that trying to center the hooks over the balloon's center seam resulted in hooks which occasionally pulled off as the balloon lost helium. Best thing here is to attach the hooks slightly off center so that they fully stick to the skin. Those new tapes I mentioned earlier should eliminate the problem on newer models.

On now to the heart of the Air Swimmer. The tail is a wonderfully engineered assembly which needs only to have the capped rods at the end of the tail fin attached as shown in the manual and retained with the supplied clips. A round foam spacer is fitted between the tail and the rear of the balloon and secured with rubber bands over the previously installed hooks.

Sonofagun, our fish now has a fanny. High altitude users who are having problems with buoyancy can leave the top and bottom hooks off. The reinforcement tapes can be omitted for additional weight loss per the instructions, but in my opinion, the weight savings is negligible when compared to having to constantly reattach popped-off parts.

Now is the time to install three AAA-cell batteries in the remote control and one in the receiver. Here's where the little phillips screwdriver is necessary; the battery covers on both units are retained by screws.

Much like a 2.4GHz radio system, the receiver is actually factory-bound to the remote control which allows multiple Air Swimmers to be in the air at once. Should it become necessary to rebind the system, it's easily done. A quick check of the system showed it to be working properly, so on we go to the finish line.

Like the hooks and fins before it (just don't say the word "hooks" too loudly around this or any fish), the combination electronics module/ballast holder/pitch slider attaches to the bottom of the balloon via the ubiquitous double-sided tape and clear reinforcement tape. Once more, the instructions recommend a helper to hold the balloon and believe me, it's good advice during this critical step.

Skipping ahead, I misinterpreted the illustration which shows the two very large reinforcement squares on the sheet being peeled off. Those big squares are a must; the inevitable slight loss of helium will result in the receiver falling off if they're not used.

Where the assembly actually goes is dependent on where you happen to be flying. Since I live at about 2600' (792m), I aligned the rearmost mounting pad at the recommended location for high altitudes. Again, experience rapidly taught that the best way to attach it is to do so off of the seam.

The clownfish version has a slightly different set of alignment marks, but the result is the same. That receiver is a clever thing which not only incorporates the infrared receiver but an ingenious slider assembly which looks something like a remora and which rides back and forth along its track via a rack-and-pinion setup. The remora also holds the putty used as ballast. The tail motor wire threads back through the eyelets along the bottom of the balloon and its polarized plug inserted into its receptacle.

The final step is to place some of the enclosed ballast putty in the "mouth" of the slider to make the Air Swimmer buoyantly neutral. Fine tuning the ballast is done in very small increments; it takes a surprisingly small amount in or out to balance the Air Swimmer. Keeping it neutral can actually change from day to day with air temperature, barometric pressure and the inevitable loss of helium. The putty itself can be stored in the remote's storage compartment (which also has a mooring hook) but I elected to keep it stored in its little zip lock plastic bag.

Cue that ominous music once more, because our Air Swimmers shark is ready to terrorize your living room!

Once the remote and receiver are powered up, flying the Air Swimmer is as simple as simple can be. It's also incredibly good fun and a real hoot to see in action. The swimming motion of the tail fin is done via the operator's back-and-forth movement of the tail fin switch. The longer the switch is held in either position, the farther the fin moves. Holding the switch in either position in turn holds the tail, causing it act as a rudder.

That same motion also allows the Air Swimmer to be maneuvered through the air; it will turn on the proverbial dime if necessary. Despite its size, it's maneuverable enough for use in all but the smallest spaces. If it sinks while swimming, a press on the "climb" side of the pitch control switch shifts the ballast rearward and points the nose up. It will descend as well simply by pushing on the "dive" side.

My example dives, but not as well as it climbs. I attribute this to the location of the receiver based on my elevation. Either way, the motion is incredibly realistic. The side-to-side motion of the tail fin is smooth and actually causes a bit of a rocking motion in the body itself, adding to the realism. Or, if you prefer, the incongruity of a shark swimming across your living room.

Unquestionably so. The Air Swimmer requires no previous R/C experience of any kind nor is learning R/C flight necessary. Once the balloon is inflated, the blimp is literally taped together. Even the smallest child who understands how the tail fin control switch works can fly under supervision. Regardless of who does the flying, central air or heat should be turned off along with ceiling fans and hot, exposed lighting.

The Air Swimmers Remote Control Flying Shark is as much fun as the videos show. It assembles quickly, is easy to fly and will be the talk of any party. Once inflated, the balloon can be deflated for storage, but keep in mind that it'll be another five bucks to refill it. Storing it inflated is as simple as removing the ballast and letting the blimp rest against the ceiling or it can be moored either to a tab on the display box or the hook in the remote with the enclosed length of ribbon.

I give the Air Swimmer an enthusiastic two thumbs up, two pectoral fins up and a dorsal fin up for the incredible fun factor, the equally incredible cool factor and the fact that the whole family can enjoy operating it. This is a must-have for anyone interested in model flight. My thanks go to my dear friend Jeff Brock of Cumming, Georgia for alerting me to Air Swimmers in the first place. Extra special thanks go to inventor Blake English for providing a sample of his peerless invention for review. No review is possible here on without the intervention of administrator Angela Haglund and of course, you, our readers, are why we do these reviews. Enjoy your stay here on and we'll talk again soon!

Remote Control Shark - Air Swimmers Extreme
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