If scored based on a “Fun Quotient”, the VertiBird from Mattel would be at the top of its class. Initially released in 1971, this line of toy helicopters with actual spinning rotors and blades combined simple flight simulation with crime fighting, search and rescue, and space exploration operations. VertiBird was an exceptional play experience for children who wanted to create their own adventures.
A thin metal rod connected the VertiBird helicopter to a circular base that contained a small electric motor powered by four ‘D’-sized alkaline batteries. In addition to giving the toy the ability to fly, the batteries also added enough weight to the base to prevent the entire apparatus from tipping over.
Each VertiBird playset included a variety of accessories, like cardboard buildings or plastic cars, that tied into its theme — like “Air Police”, “Airborne Rescue”, and “Polar Adventure.”
The heli was controlled with two levers. One lever controlled forward hovering and reverse motions while the other lever controlled speed and altitude. With a little practice, young heli-pilots could take off, land, hover, and fly forward and backwards. Flying skills were put to the test with VertiBird’s attached Skyhook – which could be used to pick up a variety of plastic items that were included with the toy.
The toy line enjoyed a 10-year run before being discontinued in the early 1980s.
Todd Coopee is Editor-in-Chief of Toy Tales, an online publication that covers toys and games past and present.