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Product Reviews - February 2005

Published: January 14, 2005
Model Railroading: Atlas Train Master; Broadway Limited USRA Light 2-8-2
Atlas captures the Gold with F-M Train Master
Reviewed by Hal Miller

Product: Officially designated H24-66 for its 2,400 hp and six axles, the Train Master was the biggest, most powerful road-switcher of its time. Its opposed-piston power plant, similar to those used in submarines, gave it a unique sound. Train Masters worked until the early 1970s, pulling both freight and passenger trains. It may have been the least-produced locomotive (127 units) to have the biggest impact on the railroad industry.

Atlas' HO-scale Master Gold Series F-M Train Master, the company's first sound-equipped locomotive, makes its point as powerfully as the prototype. Equipped with QSI Quantum System Sound and an electronic dual-mode decoder, buyers can enjoy and program the locomotive's aural delights with Digital Command Control or a traditional analog controller.

Performance: What sounds there are! As I was writing this, I left the locomotive on the track with the power on, just to hear the sound of the opposed-piston prime mover idling in the background. Every now and again, I'd hear the sound of the compressor kicking on and various hisses of air being released, just as on a real locomotive.
Throttle up the Train Master, turn on the bell, blow the air horns a couple of times and you're off. Knuckle up to a string of cars, and you can activate the sound of the locomotive coupling to them. Once you're underway again, you can turn on the sounds of the cooling fans, dynamic brakes under load and air brake/flange squeal. The dual-speaker arrangement in the carbody gives users the option of giving the engine and horn sounds a Doppler effect. The locomotive will also give you a verbal status readout, including speed in scale mph and various air let-offs. Lighting is directional, with Mars lights on applicable roadnames. Don't want any sound? You can turn that off too with the push of a button.

The sound and control are only half the story, though. The carbody is well detailed, with sharp painting and lettering, and the plastic handrails have a thin, well-proportioned cross-section. Users have only to add the front and rear handrails and the drop-steps. I thought I might break the handrails because they were so thin, but the plastic is remarkably resilient, even under my O-scale fingers. My favorite detail was the individual handles for each door on the carbody. (Fortunately, they are applied at the factory.) The trucks are incredibly well detailed too, featuring all brake lines and sand hoses. There's even a speed recorder with a cable snaking up under the cab!

I used three DCC systems to test the Train Master, and it performed well on all of them. I also used an analog throttle, which worked as advertised in the detailed instruction book.

Marketing: Put one of these on a track or rollers and blow the horn a few times. It will get your customers' attention! Train Masters were used in freight and passenger service, which should appeal to a wide variety of modelers. Silver Series units are offered with two road numbers, plus painted and unnumbered. Since sound and DCC are installed on the Gold series, customers may never have to take the body shell off, which should appeal to the technically and time-challenged. The capabilities of this locomotive are fully realized with DCC, offering retailers an additional sales opportunity.

    Selling points
  • Opposed-piston sound

  • Excellent heft and pulling power

  • Fine details already installed

    Product Info
    Product: HO Master Gold Series F-M Train Master
    Maker: Atlas
    Stock Number: 7805, 7806 (Lackawanna, Gold Series)
    MSRP: Gold $249.95, Silver $139.95
    Also available: Gold Series roadnames include (Phase 1a, 1b or 2 carbody where applicable): undecorated (Nos. 7800, 7801, 7802), Lackawanna (7705, 7706), Southern Pacific (7707, 7708), Virginian (7709, 7710), Canadian Pacific (7711, 7712), Jersey Central (7713, 7714) and Pennsylvania (7715, 7716). Silver Series includes: undecorated (7800, 7801, 7802), Lackawanna (7805, 7806, 7807), Southern Pacific (7808, 7809, 7810), Virginian (7811, 7812, 7813), Canadian Pacific (7814, 7815, 7816), Jersey Central (7817, 7818, 7819) and Pennsylvania (7820, 7821, 7822). More roadnames to be Avaliable in April: Erie Lackwanna, Wabash, Southern Pacific, Reading, and F-M Demonstrator. See Atlas for more details.

Broadway Limited's USRA light 2-8-2 at home on a variety of railroads
Reviewed by Hal Miller

Product: Broadway Limited has done a great job of capturing the sounds and motion that make steam locomotives so interesting in its offerings thus far. Its Paragon Series USRA light 2-8-2 continues that pattern, giving model railroaders a well-detailed, great-sounding HO-scale version of a locomotive that was used by many railroads during the first half of the 20th century.

More than 600 USRA light 2-8-2s were built in 1918-19. The USRA design included the latest advances in railroad technology to that point, including power-reverse equipment and mechanical stokers.

The model we received is lettered for the St. Louis-San Francisco Railway, more commonly known as the Frisco. The lettering is crisp and the details are nicely done. The boiler front is correctly configured with the headlight mounted in the center and the bell on the front.

Rivet counters might notice places to add additional piping, and an aftermarket detail retailers might suggest, depending on the prototype, is a "doghouse" brakeman's shelter on the tender behind the coal bunker.

Performance: The running gear is well executed, and the locomotive runs smoothly and quietly with a five-pole can motor. One neat feature is the locomotive's tractive effort can be increased by dropping in the provided set of traction-tire equipped drivers. BLI's well-written and comprehensive instruction book illustrates this procedure and much more.

A Digital Command Control decoder and QSI Quantum Sound come installed in the locomotive's tender. The unit can also be operated with a conventional DC tranformer; those users will benefit from the addition of a Sidekick HO, DC unit (1001, $29.99), sold separately. The Sidekick allows push-button sound operation and programming.

On the track, the Mikado sounds terrific, with a powerful chuff and a hearty whistle. Other sounds include a bell, coupler crash, blower hiss, brake and flange squeal, and air and steam let-offs.

Marketing: The best way to sell any sound-equipped locomotive is to have it running, either on a layout or a set of rollers on the counter. Each roadname is offered in two numbers, encouraging multiple sales. Stock detail parts for additional sales opportunities.

    Product Info
    Product: HO USRA light 2-8-2 locomotive
    Maker: Broadway Limited Imports
    Stock Number: 124
    MSRP: $299.99
    Also available: Southern No. 4501 (126), No. 4751(127), No. 4752 (128); Nickel Plate No. 586 (116), No. 601 (117); Wabash No. 2201 (118), No. 2209 (119); Monon No. 550 (120), No. 552 (121); Missouri Pacific No. 1301 (122), No. 1305 (123); St. Louis-San Francisco No. 4004 (125); Baltimore & Ohio No. 4518 (101), No. 4529 (102); Lehigh & Hudson River No. 81 (103), No. 82 (104); Louisville & Nashville No. 1514 (105), No. 1515 (106); New York Central No. 5101 (107), No. 5115 (108); Pennsylvania No. 9627 (109, No. 9628 (110); Union Pacific No. 2480 (113), No. 2499 (114); painted and unlettered (115).

    Selling Points
  • Smooth mechanism

  • Sound

  • Runs on DC or DCC

Marketing the USRA light 2-8-2:
"You definitely have to demo it. Our test track is right at the front of the store across from the counter. I'd put it on our test track attached to a DCC system. It catches people's attention! If people don't see it and hear it they don't understand it."
Steve Rosnick
Destination Hobby Center, Libertyville, Ill.
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Radio Control: HobbyZone Mini Mauler; WattAge Micro-Flyer; Traxxas S-Maxx; ITC Bladerunner
HobbyZone's 1:20 Mini Mauler gives Maxi-Fun
Reviewed by Gregg Voss

The Product: Indoor and outdoor R/C fun can be in the palm of customers' hands, literally, thanks to the release of HobbyZone's 1:20 Mini Mauler RTR. It comes in three body colors - black, red and blue - and includes a built-in ESC, motor and radio. Distributor Horizon Hobby says tons of accessories are available, including an upgrade motor and a clear body.

Assembly/Performance: Preparing the rear-wheel-drive Mini Mauler was a snap. Four AA alkaline cells (in purple casings) are included for the vehicle itself, placed in a battery bay that slides into the chassis between the four wheels; eight (in green casings) are included for the transmitter. I didn't even have to affix the wire antenna, which I hate doing. The body was pretty slick, featuring chrome pieces for the rollbar and steps. The only problem I had was not enough body clips were included, so I appropriated some from a stash I've built up over the years.

Though the Mini Mauler has a wide base (5-1/8 inches), it fit in my hand, and it weighs just 1.06 pounds. Crunch the numbers, and you'll find that this product is perfect for the youngster who wants to be just like dad but is perhaps too young for a Team Losi LST or Traxxas T-Maxx. The pistol-grip radio is not toyish, featuring steering and throttle trims, but isn't so sophisticated a child will be overwhelmed.

I started out by running it in the open carpeted area near my office, and after some fine steering adjustments, I opened her up. The on-off button is located on the inside of the front driver's side tire. A bit tough to get to, so I suggest using a pen or pencil if you've got big hands.

The Mini Mauler is quick but doesn't haul off like a shot, and actually left me wanting more power … which is why I requested the upgrade motor from Horizon. But for a youngster, it's going to be a blast. Horizon includes a fold-up ramp for it, so I amused myself by jumping over it, proving that the shocks and suspension worked well. What was really impressive was its turning ability - it turns on a dime with its tight radius.

But best of all, this product is durable. I drove the Mini Mauler around the corner, toward two sets of stairs that lead to the main lobby at Kalmbach Publishing. I debated taking it down the steps, but then threw caution to the wind. Sure, it bounced to the first landing and ended up on its side facing the wall, but it was no worse for wear. I took it down the second flight and it landed on its four heavily treaded tires and I drove it off. Translation: Both kids and adults are going to be able to bang this vehicle around and not have to worry (much) about breaking parts.

I then took the Mini Mauler to the company's distribution bay, where the floors are notoriously slippery. Where the heavy treads gripped the carpet upstairs, and caused the vehicle to tip when heading into turns, it stayed perfectly grounded on the slippery concrete floor. The spinouts were cool, too, but there was no place to jump, so I headed outside, where there is a step and areas with wood chips and bumpy ground.

As with the distribution bay, the vehicle didn't tip on the concrete, and I had no problems whatsoever jumping off the curb. I also took it into the sections with the wood chips and it handled those with ease, though I had to back up occasionally to dislodge it. Reverse is more responsive than I expected it to be. It didn't do well in the bumpy ground area - there wasn't enough power to scale the bumps, which in most cases were half to two-thirds the size of the vehicle itself.

I also performed a radio range test, and it easily did 50 yards. I even switched out the HobbyZone radio (on Channel 2) for a Carisma radio (on Channel 1), and it performed just as well, and in fact, seemed even more responsive. It was easy to switch crystals, meaning a dad can teach junior a fundamental part of this hobby.

Marketing: Horizon says a free consumer brochure is available for the Mini Mauler, so here's my suggestion - set up a race program either at your shop or somewhere nearby, then get a bunch of brochures and canvass your local schools, and not just elementary schools. Why not drop some off in college dorms and let the students there know that they can set up a basement racing league on the cheap? You could even post the results in your store or set up a Web site for that purpose.

But think big - maybe you could have the best racers at all the local elementary, middle and high schools square off next spring in age-division championships. The same could be done for all the college dorms on a campus, or even church youth groups or boys/girls clubs.
Whatever you do, though, make sure they know your store is the place to buy the Mini Mauler and aftermarkets/upgrades, and more importantly, get help!

    Selling Points:
  • Features a tight turning radius and good speed (but not too much), perfect for indoors.

  • Can rumble over a bed of wood chips and the included cardboard jump with ease.

  • The perfect vehicle for school, youth group and college dorm racing leagues.

Marketing the Mini Mauler
"We've got one demonstrated for people to try. We'll have the employees drive it around, and that will spur some interest. We've also sold the [Team Losi 1:18] Mini-T because we're driving the Mini Mauler. Racing could be interesting, with the multiple frequencies. We want to do an ad on it - it can go up against the cheaper ones from Radio Shack and Toys R Us."
Jeff Berner
HobbyTown USA, Brookfield and New Berlin, Wis.

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    Vital Stats:
    Product: 1:20 Mini Mauler.
    Maker: HobbyZone.
    Stock numbers: Black (No. HBZ3000); red (No. -3005); blue (No. -3010).
    Street price: $99.99.
    Availability: Horizon Hobby.

WattAge's Pint-Sized Micro Flyer a Load of Fun
Reviewed by Gregg Voss

The Product: WattAge's long-awaited Micro Flyer has a 9-inch wingspan and 8-1/4-inch length. It weighs 1 ounce, making it one of the smallest and lightest R/C planes on the market. It's perfect for really small spaces like a backyard, schoolyard or even a gymnasium. It comes with a basic two-channel transmitter that doubles as a charger for the plane's lithium-ion battery.

Assembly/Performance: Mike Greenshields of distributor Global Hobby showed me an early version of the high-wing Micro Flyer at last year's RCX show. I figured it would be a hit, and those sentiments were confirmed when I received my review samples.

Preparation is almost non-existent - place six AA alkaline cells in the simple hand-held transmitter and charge the plane's battery for roughly 40 minutes before the first flight. That battery, about the size of a pat of butter, fits into a small cavity on the back of the transmitter; a red light goes on when charging, and turns off when complete.

The plane itself is an engineering marvel. It's constructed of light foam, with the prop assembly well glued to the nose; two gears inside connect the prop to the motor. The main wing tips are flared at the end, and the prop spinner is rubber, cushioning hard landings. The vertical stab has a flap that is ingeniously operated by a magnetic actuator. A thin wire landing gear snaps in under the fuselage, and the battery pops into the pilot's side.

Fellow Model Retailer associate editor Fred Jandt and I first took it out in an open field on a cool, crisp morning with no wind, which is key. Customers won't be able to fly this in more than 3-5 mph gusts.

After a soft toss into the wind with the transmitter's Motor On button pressed, the Micro Flyer was airborne. What impressed me most was its ability to climb into the wind. It simply didn't want to drop, even though I made a few mistakes that would have put lesser planes into the ground. When it finally did come down, there was no damage … partly because I was flying over tall grass, but also because there just isn't a lot of mass or speed.

It only takes a little while to realize that letting off the motor into the wind creates a scenario where the Micro Flyer is almost hovering. I also found this tactic important when I was doing figure-8s and felt like the plane was getting a little out of control. For lack of a better phrase, taking my thumb off the motor allowed me to "collect my thoughts." Flights were about 8-10 minutes.

But best of all may be the fact that the Micro Flyer can be flown indoors when the weather is too crummy. I took it to a local church gymnasium, and it flew great. I even got so proficient in just a few minutes that I was doing touch-and-go landings and taking off from the free-throw lane. I also removed the landing gear to see if the weight reduction would have any affect, and the plane seemed a bit more nimble. At one point I dropped the plane onto the court and it appeared to skid, but I gunned the motor and it pulled back into the air.

The only problem I had was after several nose-first crashes the prop assembly popped off. After realigning the gears, I snapped it back on and worked. However, I would suggest gluing the seams.

Marketing: The Micro Flyer will appeal to a wide audience. It will be a great father-son product, and perhaps even one that everybody in the family (including mom!) will get a kick out of. It's nearly impossible to destroy it, and with two frequencies - 27 and 49 MHz - and a reasonable MSRP, everyone can have one.

It's also the perfect plane to market to pre-teens. But expand your thinking: If you've got a field or gym nearby your store, assign one of your staffers to walk kids, and their parent(s), over there and give them a hands-on demonstration. At the conclusion, give each a percentage-off coupon as an enticement to purchase. You could also use it for an indoor flight demo day at your local elementary schools. Take the Micro Flyer and other indoor park fliers and have your best pilot show the kids, teachers and administrators what's possible. It also gives you the chance to tell everyone where they can buy these products.

The Micro Flyer box measures 12 3/4 x 4 3/4 x 10 1/2 inches, and features a big clear plastic window showing everything included, flanked by colorful graphics. It should help facilitate your sales pitch.

Marketing the Micro Flyer:
"We're advertising it on our lighted marquee and we have a display in the store. That works really well. When weather permits, we have a park across the street where we demo fly it. The target audience has been widespread. I had one man buy five from me. He bought one for himself and his sons and grandson. He's in his 60s, his sons are in their 40s and his grandson is 10 or 12. We've sold them to people in all different age groups. I've got guys flying quarter-scale gas that are coming in and buying them."
Chris Neilsen
Hobby Hut Models, Grand Junction, Colo.

    Selling Points:
  • Easy to fly and nearly indestructible

  • Simple controls, perfect for young pilots

  • Easy and quick assembly

    Vital Stats:
    Product: Micro Flyer.
    Maker: WattAge.
    Stock number: 157100.
    MSRP: $59.99.
    Availability: Global Hobby Distributors.

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Traxxas S-Maxx a 40-mph "Wheelie Monster"
Reviewed by Greg Brusk, with Gregg Voss

Product: The 1:10 two-wheel-drive RTR Stadium Maxx (also known as the S-Maxx) is built for the track and capable of 40 mph out of the box. The rear-wheel-drive stadium truck possesses a TRX 2.5 racing engine, TQ-3 radio, SportTraxx tires, constant drive engagement and lightweight chrome wheels.

Performance: Like other Traxxas RTRs, there simply isn't much elapsed time between buy and drive. Brusk had to put four AA alkalines in the vehicle for the receiver and eight in the radio, insert the antenna tube and charge a 7.2-volt NiCd battery pack (not included) for the EZ-Start electric starter controller, which has two LEDs - to indicate you've got power to the starter motor and the glow driver, respectively.

The instruction manual stated Brusk had to glue the tires, but his came glued, much to his delight because it was a time saver. A snazzy set of decals was also included, and dressed up the blue and gray pre-painted body nicely. Without adding decals and assuming the battery pack for the EZ-Start is charged, "I would say you could have it running within 5 minutes," he says.

Engine break-in is a snap thanks to detailed procedures outlined in both the operator's manual and the included S-Maxx DVD. "They are really specific with what they want," Brusk says. Traxxas' procedure called for five separate break-in tanks, with the first requiring a series of one-quarter throttle bursts for 2 seconds for the balance of the tank, followed by a 15-minute cooldown with the body off. The other four tankfuls step up from that. Brusk used Dynamite Blue Thunder fuel with 30% nitro content for engine break-in and testing.

After break-in, Brusk ran several tanks in a variety of areas - on the grass in his backyard, the street in front of his house and at a stone/gravel quarry.

"It's only two-wheel-drive, but it's a well-balanced vehicle," Brusk says. "It jumps great, it corners well, and in fact, I found myself richening up the mixture just to tone it down a bit because it's fast. I found myself going, especially with a test vehicle, faster than I wanted. On my street, I topped it out and it was going about 40 mph."

But even cooler was the fact that the S-Maxx is, in Brusk's words, a "wheelie monster." Without even hammering the throttle, the front wheels go up and "the next thing you know you're dragging the bumper."

That's another reason he richened the fuel mixture, but even if he hadn't, the suspension geometry is identical to the T-Maxx and the E-Maxx; thanks to that, Brusk didn't break any parts during testing.

The S-Maxx is set up like a race vehicle. It relies more on the driver to harness the power of the 2.5 engine, and unlike the T-Maxx, it doesn't have reverse, which is illegal to use on a track. Plus, it's quicker than the T-Maxx, and it could get even quicker - Brusk speculates the engine could be swapped for an .18. It can also be upgraded to four-wheel-drive, and can even be converted to a T-Maxx with sold-separately two-speed, four-wheel and reverse modules.
"[If I were racing] I would probably invest in the hard-anodized, big-bore shocks which are more geared toward performance and tunability, and you're probably going to run a different patterned tire [and] a softer compound," he says. "You're going to upgrade, but they do have spec classes, which means stock out of the box. But even the spec classes allow for suspension components and tire component upgrades."

Traxxas lists the S-Maxx as a skill level 2 vehicle, so Brusk says it's perfect for intermediate to advanced drivers like himself. It might not be a good fit as a first-time ride for a youngster or even an adult, he says, adding Traxxas has three skill level 1 vehicles (Stampede, Bandit and Spirit) that might be a better fit for those customers.

Marketing: The colorful box will work hard to help you sell the S-Maxx. It measures 201/2 x 11 x 153/4 inches and one long side panel shows the 2.5 engine with callouts for the features and explanations for each. One of the shorter side panels shows the truck in action and also displays a grid with photos explaining what's in the box, what you'll need to run and the body color inside - a very good use of available space.

"Inside, this is the first kit I opened that it didn't take a half-hour to undo all the twist ties," Brusk says. "Traxxas spent some time coming up with the little styrofoam endcaps without tie-wrapping the vehicle down to cardboard."

He says a seminar for customers explaining the features of this vehicle, and why it is a step up from toys or skill level 1 vehicles, might be appropriate, especially if you have a racing facility in your store or nearby. Offer soda and hot dogs, and it could make your shop the hotbed of Saturday activity.

Traxxas says free sells sheets are available for retailers; contact your sales rep or distributor.

I market it as a racing vehicle for off-road tracks, so I say, "If you want to race, get an S-Maxx and lower it a little bit." You've got half the rotating mass, translating to quick acceleration.
-Tom McCoy, Performance Hobbies
Webster, N.Y.

    Product: Stadium Maxx (S-Maxx)
    Maker: Traxxas
    Scale: 1:10
    Stock number: 5109
    MSRP: $379.99

  • Fast (40+ mph) "wheelie monster"

  • Little time from buying to driving

  • Easy convert to 4-wheel-drive, T-Maxx

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ITC's BladeRunner a Perfect Jump Into R/C Choppers
Reviewed by Jim Schweder, with Gregg Voss

They may look really dramatic in flight, especially the big nitro-powered models, but piloting an R/C helicopter is not an easy thing. It takes a lot of skill and patience to hover a chopper, much less move it directionally.

That's why a product like Interactive Toy Concepts' electric BladeRunner, part of the company's Air-Tech line, is so key. It can be the starting point for interested pilots young and old to get a taste for this growing segment of R/C in a virtually consequence-free environment.

Schweder is one of those pilots. He's got plenty of fixed-wing R/C aircraft experience, but has always wanted to try choppers.

He admitted the BladeRunner looked a tad fragile out of the box, "but after I bounced it off the wall and the ceiling and it continued to fly, [I realized] it's not that delicate," he says.

All he had to do to prepare to fly was place a 9-volt battery in the two-stick controller. The battery in the BladeRunner is charged by plugging a wall adapter into the transmitter; a wire in the back of the transmitter is then plugged into the chopper itself.

"The battery that's in the helicopter, they tell you it's partially charged, and you're supposed to fly it out of the box until the battery wears down and then charge it," Schweder says. "That first half-battery I was actually hovering."

The "body" is essentially a thick piece of plastic wrapped around the inner electronics. This is a counter-rotational model, and the two main rotor blades have a thin wire ring on the outside protecting the blades. Also of note is a small motor at the end of the wire-thin tail boom that controls forward and reverse movement. Schweder says that motor wasn't very strong, which meant the BladeRunner was pretty slow moving directionally.

Schweder, who did most of his flying at his home with young sons Jimmy and Liam, learned that some places were better than others. "It's supposed to be indoor, like in the house, but I just felt like it was cramped inside, and I didn't have as much fine control," he says. "You can hover it, you can control spinning around and up and down, but the problem is, if someone walks by, the wind jostles it a little bit. When I was flying, the furnace kicked in, and it moved off and hit the wall.
"The garage turned out to be perfect. Once I was in a calm environment with a lot of room, I was able to do figure-8s around the kids and fly it through my legs. I set down plastic tubs and we would fly from one tub to the next."

Schweder, who also drew a crowd at the office when he flew it in the hallway, has wanted to try his hand at helicopters for a decade, and said the BladeRunner finally gave him the chance. He expects to take the next step in short order.

    Selling Points:
  • Perfect introduction to R/C helicopters

  • Users can learn in a virtually consequence-free environment

  • Main rotors have protection

    Vital Stats:
    Product: Air-Tech BladeRunner.
    Maker: Interactive Toy Concepts.
    Stock number: 40321.
    MSRP: $99.

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Tighter Tolerance Translates to Less Interference
Reviewed by Tom Conte, with Gregg Voss

Product: All R/C crystals aren't created equal, which is why customers are going to be excited about the tighter tolerances provided by Performance Devices' individual crystals and sets.

Performance: Performance sent us several single- and dual-conversion product samples for both surface and air, and Conte had a most unique test vehicle.

His son, Anthony, is in kindergarten, and his teacher was planning a special presentation on space and robotics. One thing led to another, and Anthony said his daddy could actually make a Mars Rover out of an R/C car. Not wanting to let down his son and his classmates (or teacher), Conte fashioned a Mars Rover out of a Traxxas Rustler.

The Rover utilized two Performance crystals. The Channel 1/26.995 MHz AM model replaced the stock Traxxas receiver crystal for the vehicle's operation. The single-conversion Channel 67/75.530 MHz FM crystal set was used with the Hitec Lynx radio that operated the panning function for the attached video camera.

With the Rover, "we have the static from the electric motor and the other receiver and the camera, and I didn't see any interference," Conte says. "That's a practical test."

Marketing: Another novel observation was the packaging. "[Conte's other testers] were impressed with the fact that the surface [crystals] had racing flags and the air ones had 'air' written on it and an airplane [graphic]," Conte says. "If you buy other crystals, you have to read."

In addition to tighter tolerance and logical packaging, Conte also estimates Performance's crystals were about $3-$5 cheaper than other products, which will make everyone happy.

    Product: Single- and dual-conversion R/C radio crystals and sets
    Maker: Performance Devices
    Stock numbers and MSRPs for reviewed products: Channel 31 FM dual-conversion crystal/Futaba radios (No. PDF972-0031, $7.95); Channel 36 FM dual-conversion crystal/Hitec radios (No. PDV971-0036, $7.95); Channel 15 FM single-conversion set/JR radios (No. PDV970-0015, $14.95); Channel 16 FM single-conversion set/JR radios (No. PDV970-0016, $14.95); Channel 63 AM/Airtronics (No. PDV 100-1063, $10.95); Channel 41 FM MICRO/GWS (No. PDV 400-1041, $7.95); Channel 1 AM (No. PD100-2-31, $8.95); Channel 67 FM single-conversion (No. PDV 200-0067, $14.95)

  • Virtually no interference

  • A variety of crystals and sets

  • Logical packaging

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Models: Whitewings Sky Ryders Sea Planes; Tonkin Replicas B-17G; Black Car Dream Time Garage
Master Sea and Air with Sky Ryders Seaplanes
By Jim Haught

Product: As Kalmbach Publishing's resident free-flight guy, I was pleased to have the opportunity to review the Sky Ryders Seaplanes from the Whitewings folks. I had success flying the company's catapult gliders, and was anxious to check out the flying capabilities of this pair of models.

The box contains two complete 18-inch-wingspan seaplane models, along with a battery-powered (2x AA) winder that's a nice feature. The winder's counter is especially helpful with the early test flights, so the number of turns put into the rubber motor can be consistently repeated and gradually increased.

The models' parts are foam or plastic, with the only balsa contained in the fuselage core. The core could be made from thicker or closer-grained wood; my models' fuselages twisted and bowed a bit from motor torque, making flying adjustments a bit more difficult than necessary.

Assembly consists of matching notches and tabs, and should present no problem, even to young fliers. The floats snapped into place on their bracing with no difficulties, and the wings and stabilizer likewise connected to the fuselage with only minor fit corrections.

Peformance: The four-strand motor is fairly short - slightly longer than the distance between the front and rear hooks - so it will deliver high initial torque and a relatively brief total run time. Dealing with such a power burst can make adjustment tricky; I recommend bending up both elevator tabs at least 1/8-inch and lowering the right wing aileron the same amount before the first flight. This helps to avoid a tendency for the model to spin in under power.

Marketing: It's interesting that the box art refers to the
models as "flying model toys" that " land on water or land." To be sure, the models' setup, and the power provided, puts them more in the "toy" class than that of a performance model; and I'm sure the models would land on water fine, but the narrow stance of the floats and the motor's high torque would make water takeoffs difficult at best.
But with careful, incremental adjustments and diligent use of the counter, many short-but-happy flights are possible, and the box-art claim of "flies over 100 feet" can become reality.

    Product: Sky Ryders Seaplane
    Maker: AG Industries
    Stock Number: AG9872
    MSRP: $24

  • Packaging is attractive and colorful

  • Winder provides consistent output

  • Two models allows others to fly

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Ertl's new Grave Digger kit crushes the competition
Review by Mark Melchiori

Product: Quite literally, one of the biggest forms of American motorsports is monster-truck racing. Created in the 1970s, monster trucks have evolved from stock trucks with lift kits and huge tires into some amazing, technically advanced racing machines. One of the most famous trucks in the sport's history is Dennis Anderson's Grave Digger.

Performance: AMT/Ertl's new 1:25 Grave Digger kit comes in a very colorful, large box. The box needed to be bigger than a standard model box because of the sheer size of the parts in it. There are several photos of a finished model on the box; however, using these as a guide for parts placement will be tricky, as there are several parts that are not on the box-art model, but are in the kit.

Most of parts are molded in gray plastic, but the kit also includes clear, clear red and chrome parts.

The plastic seemed to be a little softer than usual, and the parts had larger than normal mold lines on them. The large one-piece body is nicely done, though, and it does capture the shape of the real truck well. The suspension systems are very detailed, but still contain many parts and somewhat confusing instructions.

Essential to any monster truck are huge tires, and there are four big ones in the kit. They are molded well in vinyl, but have no sidewall detail.

The decal sheet is very impressive, but not entirely accurate. While the graphics were crisp and looked great, I had some difficulty getting them to fit around the rear of the body, leaving some unsightly wrinkles. The flames for the hood are nicely printed, too, but they are the wrong color. The flames also do not follow the compound curves of the hood at all. I ended up cutting the green areas from the decals to get them to fit, and then painting the areas by hand.

Marketing: All in all, I had a good time assembling this model. However, AMT/Ertl calls this a skill level 2 kit, but I would definitely make it at least a 3. It may not be the best bet for youngsters who are novice builders. However, those that do finish building the kit can be proud of a job well done.

    Product: Grave Digger monster truck
    Maker: AMT/Ertl.
    Stock Number: 38184
    Suggested Retail: $15
    Scale: 1:25

  • Accurate body shape

  • Intricately detailed chassis

  • Nicely printed decals

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Sailing Success with Midwest's John Alden Sloop
Review by Matt Usher

Product: The sleek 1:16 John Alden Sloop is the latest addition to Midwest Products' Apprentice Series of display model kits. The good-looking all-wood model is based on a full-size boat designed on the East Coast in the late 1930s.

Performance: All of the wood in Midwest's kit is top-quality. Open the substantial box and you'll find several sheets of laser-and die-cut parts, as well as a variety of clean, ready-to-use stripwood. The box contains a 30-page instruction booklet, rolled full-size plans, wood parts (basswood, mahogany and balsa), plastic and brass fittings, brass wire, rigging thread and sailcloth.

Although the 30-page step-by-step instruction book and full-size rolled plans are clear and easy to follow, it's important to note that this isn't a beginner-level kit. Midwest has given the John Alden a well-deserved skill-level-3 rating, requiring an experienced builder.

Things went smoothly during construction of the model, but I did have some trouble with the two balsa pieces that attach to either side of the basswood keel. The parts weren't cleanly die cut, and more importantly, they were too small to fit properly, and I had to splice in some additional sheet around the edges. If I were to build the kit again, I'd cut my own parts from a balsa sheet.

Marketing: The finished model is almost 15 inches long and more than 24 inches tall - it displays nicely without being cumbersome, and would look right at home in a bookcase or on the mantle. Despite a couple of minor bumps along the way, I really enjoyed the evenings I spent building Midwest's John Alden Sloop, and I'd easily recommend it to modelers with boat-building experience.

    Product: John Alden Sloop
    Maker: Midwest Products
    Stock Number: 997
    Suggested Retail: $69.99
    Scale: 1:16

  • Well-written instructions and plans

  • Top-quality wood parts

  • Building jig keeps keel straight

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Tonkin's B-17G a Great Aircraft Debut
Reviewed by Gregg Voss

Product: One of the main reasons the Allies won World War II in Europe was because of air power. Perhaps the best known of these aircraft was the Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress, the subject of a really well done 1:72 die-cast model from Tonkin Replicas that was shown at October's iHobbyExpo in Chicago. The company has produced the silver-painted late-war G version "Rolling Thunder" with twin chin cannons and blue trim, along with a (relatively) risque tampo-printed pinup on both sides of the nose bubble. But here's what might surprise you - it's Tonkin's first aircraft.

Performance: The model easily weighs 2 pounds, and features a more than 17-inch wingspan and a nearly 13-inch length, complete with accurate panel lines. Couple that with Army Air Force markings and even bomb hash-mark decals for each of its missions (40), and it's a dramatic piece that is certainly worthy of display. But because of its weight and all of its ordnance - 12 machine guns - I would suggest placing it in a display case.

Tonkin has made its name with terrific 1:53 semi-trailer models, and prides itself on minute detail. That carried over to the B-17G. Among my favorites are the prop blade tips that are painted yellow, making for a cool effect when spinning; the front and rear landing gear (which are non-retractable) with engine superchargers nearby; and the cockpit, which features two seats but no pilots. Another cool thing are the ball turrets (non-moving) on the top of the fuselage just aft the cockpit, and the underside.

Marketing: This model gives you the opportunity to hook up with your local veterans groups. Maybe invite a WWII airman who actually flew on a B-17 to your store one Saturday as a special guest to explain the nuances of the real McCoy. Be sure to have plenty of product nearby … and save one for the speaker!

    Product: 1:72 Boeing B-17G Flying Fortress "Rolling Thunder"
    Maker: Tonkin Replicas
    Stock number: A00561
    MSRP: $69.95

  • Big wingspan and heft

  • Excellent small details

  • There is plenty of ordnance

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Dreamtime Garage WILL Make Customers Dream of the Past
Reviewed by Gregg Voss

Product: My biggest thing lately has been 1:18 die-cast BMW sedans. I've got several lined up on my desk for the rest of my co-workers to ogle (and envy).

But I increased my enjoyment with the 1:18 Dreamtime Garage Kit from Black Car, which can be the basis for a neat garage diorama. It comes in two styles - the Collector Series, which features a gray floor and three wall accessories and is the subject of this review, and the Sport Series, which features a checkered floor with six wall accessories.
Performance: It took me about 90 minutes to construct the nice-looking garage, but only because I'm a meticulous builder. I think you could probably get the job done in an hour if you hurried, which I don't advise. It's a fun build.

You start off with the gray floor piece, three wall pieces, a roof piece, a bag of shingles, a clear plastic window that replaces the garage door and a bag of screws and miscellaneous parts. It comes together logically - screw the wall pieces into the floor, screw metal L-joiners into both far corners and add a support beam along the top inside front of the structure. After using wood glue to add trim pieces to the far outside corners, I placed the self-stick shingles on the roof, which are made of the same material as the real thing. This wasn't as easy as I thought it would be; I recommend doing a dry run for spacing purposes. You also may want to glue them, as they stuck only fairly.

I had a nice solid structure when I was done, but something was missing - cars! I placed two 5 Series models in there; "His and hers Beemers," I told the Model Retailer staff with a grin.

But customers could do even better. Companies like GMP are making 1:18 figures that would increase the realism level, and Black Car says it's thinking about manufacturing a 1:18 workbench and possibly other accessories.

One thing I didn't do was paint the outside walls, but that is another option. If customers are inclined to paint, tell them to do so before erecting the walls. They are "shingled" like siding, and would be difficult to paint afterwards.

Marketing: The best way to market this product is to create an actual diorama, and make it as elaborate as possible - really show customers what's possible. Another good idea is to create a combo package - the Dreamtime Garage plus one or even two 1:18 cars for one price.

    Product: 1:18 Dreamtime Garage Kit
    Maker: Black Car
    Stock numbers and MSRPs: S-1118, Sport Series, $179; C-1118, Collector Series, $149

  • Easy to build

  • Painting adds a personal touch

  • Accessories create a great diorama

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