Street Price: $30-50 US + helium ($10+)
Manufacturer: William Mark Corp.
Mfr's recommended min. age: 8+
Our recommended age range: 6+ with adult assembly
Primary use: Indoors only
Top speed: n/a
Runtime per charge: 20+ mins.
- Completely unassembled kit
- 1x AAA battery
- 1x 9V battery
- Helium, assembly
My very first impressions of the Air Swimmers RC flying shark & clownfish were just from photos, where it looked like a pretty cheesy concept -- blimps with designs to look like big plastic fish balloons. Then I saw that they aren't propelled like traditional blimps, which usually use two motors with propellers for forward motion. Air Swimmers seemed to actually live up to their name, "swimming" through the air by waving the tail fin back & forth. Color me intrigued.
The Air Swimmers are about 5 feet long when fully assembled, so naturally they don't come inflated. You need to buy your own helium, which you can get from most party supply stores. I got my Air Swimmer from Toys R Us and they sell Animal Planet branded helium tanks for normally $20, though I got mine on sale for a more reasonable $9.99. When I opened the actual Air Swimmers box, though, what I found inside was not an RC shark ready to be inflated, but an assortment of unfamiliar parts & sheets of die-cut adhesive sheets. It felt like a huge let-down as I barely even saw a hint of what the finished product was going to look like, just from seeing its parts. It took me, an experienced RC maniac who has built dozens of hobby-grade kits, almost an hour to put the Air Swimmer together carefully. I very strongly recommend significant adult supervision and/or assistance for the assembly, as it can get frustrating in parts, and rushing to finish it quickly can result in a flying fish that practically falls apart in mid-air.
Once I got the Air Swimmer fully built and inflated to the point where it had "neutral bouyancy" (floated on its own, without either rising or sinking, it was pretty unwieldy. You don't want to buy one to use in a small house or apartment, as it needs lots of space to move around & breathe without blocking all other life from continuing normally. It also takes up a lot of space to store it. Flying around with it, though, is nothing short of magical.
As I mentioned above, the Air Swimmer has no propellers, it simply propels itself through the air the exact same way a fish moves through water. The fin waves back & forth at whatever speed you choose. You actually control the left & right movement directly from the controller -- there's no "forward" button, you have to go left/right/left/right. Don't get me wrong, it works amazingly well. It's just different. It's almost completely silent in the air, and its movement is slow, smooth, and deliberate. It even tends to rock its body side to side a bit when you try to go faster, which makes it look like an actual fish or shark that's working hard to accelerate or swim against a moving current. Equally interesting is how the thing flies up & down. Because the helium content is constant, a completed Air Swimmer will either slowly sink, slowly float upwards, or if you get it exactly right, float in one spot. No matter which is the case, a weighted pod on the bottom slides forward & rearward at your command on a long track, and the change of center of gravity makes the whole thing tilt either up or down. When you then start to "swim," it'll go slightly up or down at an angle, whichever way you're pointing. Again, it's just like a fish. Due to the use of radio control, not infrared, you can fly over 50 feet away and don't need to be pointing directly at the Air Swimmer.
The Air Swimmer is sensitive to changes in temperature and ambient air pressure, and from day to day or even over the course of a single day it may become effectively lighter or heavier, upsetting the balance of lift to weight. You can easily adjust for this with a stick of putty (it's like synthetic clay) that's included in a compartment in the controller. You just add a little to a dedicated pocket on the front of the sliding weight pod on the Air Swimmer, and it becomes heavier. If the 'Swimmer was too heavy to begin with, just add a little more helium, or if you've added some balancing putty, remove a little.
Like all balloon-like things, the Air Swimmers will lose buoyancy over time as a little helium escapes through tiny pores & seams. As of this writing, I had mine in use for two weeks without needing to refill it at all. I've seen some folks report issues with leaks. It's important to take care to not poke, crease, pinch, or scratch the main body when building it. Also, when you're done filling it, make sure the self-closing valve on the Air Swimmer flattens out neatly so it can seal up well.
(Click a video a second time to view it larger in a new window.)
It's rare that something comes along in the RC world that works as well as I could possibly ask, for what it is. Rarer still to see something truly new in design & style instead of a rehash of old ideas. The Air Swimmers radio-controlled flying fish accomplish both of these feats, and then some. Assembly is a bit of a pain and it needs a fair amount of space to fly around freely, but once you get it up in the air, it's all worth it.