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PowerUp 3.0 unlocks possibilities

By Hal Miller
Published: November 14, 2014
Product: Remember when you were a kid making paper airplanes, and you thought to yourself, “Man, this would be so cool if it had an engine and a propeller and I could control it!”
Guess what? It’s happened.
The PowerUp 3.0 Smartphone Controlled Paper Airplane Conversion Kit allows the user to power that dream paper creation and make it go wherever he or she wants. Well, mostly.
The kit includes the well-packaged module, which is a carbon-fiber stick with a re-ceiver-controller at one end, and the motor, propeller and rudder at the other. The kit also includes a USB charging cord, five patterned sheets of paper for folding into paper airplanes, extra propellers and an instruction book.
The user must have a Bluetooth-equipped Apple or Android smartphone to download the app that controls the plane.

Performance: My biggest gripe with the PowerUp 3.0 is the packaging. Don’t get me wrong, it’s nicely done: The business part of the plane comes securely strapped down in a clear plastic box that allows the consumer to see it. Zip ties hold it initially, but the box also has a couple of clever clips that will hold the stick in place for storage. The rest of what the purchaser gets is in a mostly black cardboard box that is really understated and doesn’t especially stand out on the shelf.
After clipping the zip ties, I plugged the provided USB cable into one of the ports on my computer, and the other end into the “cabin” part of the plane to charge the battery. While waiting, associate editor Nick Bullock downloaded the control app onto his iPhone.
As he did that, I folded one of the sheets in the box as the markings indicated to make a paper airplane. A few designs are provided, and the user can make his or her own planes that will work as long as there’s a place at the front where the clip for the power unit can attach.
The unit has a clear canopy with flashing lights that indicate charge and binding status. It also has a little rubber bumper to protect it in the event of a hard crash.
Once it was charged, I slipped the power unit onto the plane. Nick opened the app on his phone, which gives an artificial horizon, throttle, plane battery status and Bluetooth signal status, and allows the user to reverse the controls for the rudder. Then I turned the plane on—the switch is really tiny—and put it next to the phone, which binds to the closest PowerUp device. With the plane in my hand, Nick powered it up and we made sure the motor and rudder worked. Checklist completed, we took the plane outside to have a good space to fly in.
There was just a breath of wind, which we were concerned about initially, but it actually turned out to be a good thing. We trimmed the aircraft in the first few tosses, and at the third one, Nick flew the plane for about a minute, turning it by moving the phone left or right. With successive attempts, he got more confident with it and was able to keep it in the air longer. I tried it—as did a few other co-workers—and we were all able to keep the plane flying with ease. The phone app is very intuitive and user-friendly.
The motor and rudder are typical of what one might use with ultra-light aircraft. They were surprisingly effective in flight and durable when the plane came back to earth. The instruction book gives about a 60-foot range for the Bluetooth signal, and that appears to be about right. We got about 10 minutes flight time out of the battery, which is impressive given its small size.

Marketing: Model Retailer games editor Tim Kidwell, part of our little experimental flying circus, said, “I don’t think we’ve had that much fun with a radio-controlled airplane in a long time.” Indeed, the PowerUp 3.0 was entertaining, and everyone who flew it wanted to try it again with different airplane designs.
It’s really a dynamic toy. As long as the user can come up with new aircraft, it basically reinvents itself. The power unit is surprisingly robust, and the phone app is easy to use and works well. I thought maybe it would be a little herky-jerky, but I was surprised to see and feel the plane make smooth, controlled turns.
You know the phrase, “So easy a kid could do it”? That applies here. The product is for pilots 14 and older, but I’d have no qualms putting it in the hands of an 8- or 10-year-old.
The maker also offers the free-flight PowerUp 2.0 plane ($16.99), The PowerUp Bundle (2.0 with airplane templates, $19.99), and the PowerUp Boat ($12.99). Classroom bundles are also available for make-and-take events.
These are a good fit for any hobby store and will make terrific stocking stuffers for the holidays. Put them somewhere highly visible and you might just find they fly off the shelf.

Product: PowerUp 3.0 Smartphone Controlled Paper Airplane Conversion Kit
Maker: PowerUp Toys
MSRP: $49.95
Availability: PowerUp Toys

• Does exactly what it says
• Control is easy and smooth
• Packaging needs some pop