Well, after poking around with planes and cars for ages, I dipped my toes in the water very gently with a silly little play helicopter – a cheesey clone of the popular micro Picoo-Z choppers. I wouldn’t call it a hot helicopter. This bad boy is actually pretty tepid, to the point that the little guy can quite happily fly it around the room (albeit with zero directional control), and cut the power when it hits anything. No damage so far.
With only 2 channels, the Picco-Z style chopper is restricted to up/down and left/right circles. It takes some doing to actually get the thing to fly where you want it.
So, the next step is a slightly larger, 4-channel coaxial chopper: The ESky Lama V4 (a newer version of the ESky Lama V3, which in looks like a copy of the Blade CX2). The coaxial setup means more stability, no teeny tail rotor motors to burn up, and generally more tame behaviour than a full-house 6 channel chopper.
With 4 receiver channels, the Lama can go up and down, spin on it’s axis (rudder turn), and move horizontally in any direction (cyclic control). It’s a fixed-pitch heli, so there’s no “3D” acrobatic moves like inverted hovering, but I think that’s a little beyond my skill range in any case.
In case you’re wondering why it’s called a Lama, the original models (version 1 thru 3) were modelled on the Aerospatiale Lama. I believe they’ve just updated the shell of the model to look more modern.