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Product Lab - February 2008

Published: January 14, 2008
ARF or Rx-R? Synapse offers a choice
Product: Once, radio-controlled jets needed expensive glow-powered ducted fans and required lots of labor and flying experience to get off the ground.

But change is in the air. Average flyers are becoming "jet jocks" now that EDFs (electric ducted fans) have entered the marketplace.

The Synapse is one of a series of jets from Great Planes that features the company's HyperFlow electric ducted fans. The Synapse's fuselage is made from AeroCell foam and looks nothing like anything else at the local flying field. It comes in two versions: an ARF and Rx-R (receiver ready).
Our review sample was the ARF and takes a couple of hours to assemble. The Rx-R is ready in about 15 minutes.

Performance: For this review, I used a Great Planes Ammo 20-40-3500 in-runner brushless motor, ESC SS-25 for brushless motors, 11.1V 1250mAh LiPo battery and B-8 servos, all of which come with the plane's Rx-R version.

ARF assembly begins with the fan unit. Stress to your customers that they follow the break-in procedure and test everything before they glue it into the airframe. On the review model, the rotor cone required some extra effort to get it to fit properly. Your customer will know if it's not on correctly because it will cause the motor unit to vibrate and make a noise, like a very angry Dust Buster, at about three-quarter throttle.

Customers should bear in mind that the recess beneath the canopy is very small, which means they'll need a small receiver. If a traditional receiver, like a Futaba R114F, is used, the instructions will show how to hide the antenna. If a new Futaba 6EX 2.4GHz FASST receiver is used, it is important that both of the antennas are at a 90-degree angle. Just laying these out the back on either side of the fin will result in a loss of control. I learned this the hard way.

Of course, this mishap also showed me how easy the Synapse is to repair. To make sure the antennas are at 90 degrees, drill two small holes (one in each wing), then slide one antenna in each hole.

Since the Synapse is a delta-wing aircraft, I find it easiest to hand launch it when there is some "reflex" set up in the elevons. This means that neutral on both the right and left ailerons should be 1/8" up from the neutral setting shown in the instructions.

Marketing: Flying the Synapse is a blast! For the first flight, customers should let it climb out gently, get it trimmed and be ready to have some fun. It can really scoot, but will also fly nicely at half throttle, as well as perform loops and rolls. Landings are simple: cut the power and the Synapse glides right in.

While the Synapse is easy to fly, it is not for beginners. With a 26 ½" wingspan, it's a plane that can be kept in the car and flown at large parks during lunch.

Two versions of this plane offer your customers a lot of flexibility. If a pilot wants to choose the specific electronics that go in his bird, the ARF is the way to go. For those who want it all ready and waiting, Rx-R is just the ticket.

Both of these planes offer avenues for further sales. For the ARF, your customer is going to need an entire flight package, including motor, servos and battery. And while just about everything is included with the Rx-R, it never hurts to ask if your customer needs a spare battery to cut down on waits between flights.

Reviewed by Paul Daniel

Product: Synapse ARF/Rx-R
Maker: ElectriFly
Stock Nos.: ARF, GPMA1870; Rx-R, GPMA6000
Street price: ARF, $69.99; Rx-R, $149.99
Availability: Great Planes Model Distributors

  • Available as ARF or Rx-R

  • Not for beginners

  • Follow break-in procedures

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    HobbyZone's Millennium PTU a great inexpensive R/C gift
    Product: Who wouldn't want a little helicopter to hop on over to the grocery store or make short work of the commute to the office? Well, since we all can't be James Bond, HobbyZone has released a cool micro R/C heli that at least gives us a taste of what could be.

    The Millennium PTU (Personal Transport Unit) is easy to unpack. Just pop the batteries in the 2.4GHz transmitter and charge the PTU via an umbilical that is stored in the radio.

    The PTU has a single main rotor and a tail rotor for steering. A movable weight on the tail boom allows customers to adjust the PTU's forward movement.

    Performance: Recommend that customers hand launch the PTU for the first few flights. Taking off from the floor can be tricky. Use too little throttle, and it will just tip over. Punch it to about three-quarter throttle to get the heli off the ground, then pull back once it's clear.

    The heli's "pilot" is made of durable foam; ours has weathered a couple of crashes without a scratch. The stabilizer around the tail rotor split, but just a touch of glue repaired the plastic without any ill effects.

    Marketing: The PTU is a ton of fun. It is much more maneuverable than other micro helis in its price range, and therefore more enjoyable to fly.
    The 2.4GHz controller binds to the PTU for better control than that of an infrared transmitter, which typically comes with R/C toys of this price point.

    Let customers get their hands on this toy. People are constantly in my office asking for a demonstration. It can be a little nerve-wracking when a novice gets it off the ground, or doesn't, for the first time, but, after a few tries, they're usually in the air and saying how they need to go get one.

    Reviewed by Tim Kidwell

    Product: Millennium PTU
    Maker: HobbyZone
    Stock No.: HBZ9000
    MSRP/MAP: $59.99/$49.99
    Availability: Horizon Hobby

  • Fully assembled

  • Neatly detailed body shell

  • Solid performer

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    Ninco's Porsche 997 delivers strong, solid performance
    Product: Ninco continues to make dramatic improvements in its 1:32 slot car line, producing cars that are fast, fun to drive, and feature great details and crisp markings. Its latest offering is a Porsche 997 N-GT Vallejo, decorated for rally competition. The car includes driver and navigator figures and has a clear-plastic display box.

    Performance: The Porsche 997 is built along the same lines as many of Ninco's best cars, consisting of a separate body shell and chassis. The shell comes with factory-applied interior and exterior detail parts. It is neatly decorated, and even the smallest printing on the shell is legible. The striping separation lines are sharp and clean. The shell bolts to the chassis with two screws.

    The chassis contains a Ninco NC-5 motor mounted in the firm's successful angle-winder position. It also includes a hefty button magnet, positioned directly in the center of the car. This is the same configuration used in Ninco's other high-speed racers, including the Mosler and the Ascari KZ1R. The chassis has room for a Ninco N-Digital chip.

    The Porsche 997 is an impressive performer. Its NC-5 makes the 997 quick and responsive, while the center-mounted magnet keeps the car stable in the curves. The magnet's downforce never adversely affected the motor's performance.

    Marketing: Ninco's cars have improved dramatically over the years. Many of the guys in my racing group are running newer Ninco models competitively.

    On my track, the Porsche posted near-equivalent times to the other two recent Ninco speed demons, the Mosler and the Ascari, and that's important information for making recommendations to customers. As always, there are various ancillary products you can offer along with the car, such as silicon tires, N-Digital chips, new braids and more track.

    Reviewed by David Popp

    Product: Porsche 997 N-GT Vallejo
    Maker: Ninco
    Scale: 1:32
    Stock No.: 50464
    MSRP: $53.99
    Availability: MRC

  • Fully assembled

  • Neatly detailed body shell

  • Solid performer

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    Walthers N-scale USRA 0-8-0 is a smooth operator
    Product: The latest Proto N Heritage steam locomotive model from Walthers is based on one of the most successful switchers ever built, the USRA 0-8-0. The smooth-running model nicely follows the real locomotive, which was designed by the United States Railroad Administration during World War I. Although only 175 locomotives were built during this period, the design proved popular, and more than 1,100 additional engines were built to the design - operated by more than 50 railroads - into the 1950s.

    Performance: This all-new model has a split-frame die-cast chassis with plastic boiler and cab superstructure and tender shell. The detailing is sharp, and separately added details include piping, handrails, air pump, headlight, bell and whistle. The paint and lettering are well done, including the extremely small numbers on the headlight number plates.

    The model runs smoothly, and its slow-speed operation is good - especially by N-scale steam locomotive standards. The three-pole open-frame motor drives all axles; the rear driver set is equipped with rubber traction tires to increase pulling power, but an extra set of drivers is included for modelers who don't want this feature. An eight-pin DCC decoder socket is located in the tender, but space is very tight.

    The tender and locomotive must be coupled together, with a wiring harness from the engine that presses into a socket on the tender and a tender-mounted drawbar that must be screwed into place under the locomotive. You might consider offering this simple assembly service to customers.

    Marketing: This is a sharp-looking, smooth-running model that's perfect for operations on tight curves. The real locomotives operated on many railroads across the country from the late 1910s through the 1950s, so almost any steam to transition-era modeler should be able to use one.

    Reviewed by Jeff Wilson

    Product: USRA 0-8-0 switcher
    Maker: Walthers
    Scale: N
    Road names: Boston & Maine; Chesapeake & Ohio; Chicago, Burlington & Quincy; Erie; Indiana Harbor Belt; Louisville & Nashville; Missouri Pacific; New York Central; Nickel Plate Road; Northern Pacific; New York, New Haven & Hartford; Southern
    MSRP: $174.98

  • Smooth operation

  • DCC socket in tender

  • Traction tires on one driver set

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    Catch a stylish "Shark" with Bachmann's HO Baldwin models
    Product: Bachmann now offers factory-installed DCC decoders in its distinctive Baldwin RF-16 models. The real diesels, nicknamed "Sharks" for their unique nose styling, were not produced in large numbers - Baldwin built just 109 A units and 51 Bs from 1950 to 1953. However, their styling has made the Sharks quite popular among both modelers and railfans.

    Performance: The models have injection-molded styrene shells atop die-cast chassis. The shells do a good job of capturing the unique nose shape, distinctive windshields, and other body features of the real locomotives. Most details are molded in place; separate details include grab irons and horns.

    The paint and lettering on our New York Central samples were nicely done, and matched the black-and-gray lightning stripes used on the NYC's freight locomotives. The other available paint schemes are all based on specific prototypes.

    An enclosed motor powers all axles through worms and worm gears above each truck. The models (A and B units are both powered) run quite smoothly through all speeds. The models work without modification on standard DC; a factory-installed Digital Command Control decoder provides control on DCC layouts.

    Marketing: These smooth-running models should find homes on layouts of those who model the 1950s through the '70s. These unique diesels are popular, so look for "cool factor" impulse sales to modelers whose primary interests may lie in other eras or with other railroads.

    Reviewed by Jeff Wilson

    Product: Baldwin RF-16 "Shark" A and B units
    Maker: Bachmann
    Scale: HO
    Road names: Baldwin demonstrator, Baltimore & Ohio, Delaware & Hudson, New York Central, Pennsylvania Railroad (five-stripe)
    MSRP: $75 (each, A and B)

  • Captures unique design

  • Equipped with DCC

  • Prototypical paint schemes

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    Zombies must die, until the rules change, in Zombie Fluxx
    Product: Zombies abound in Zombie Fluxx, the newest addition to Looney Labs' Fluxx line of card games. Each deck of Zombie Fluxx comes with 100 cards and an instruction sheet with rules for playing basic Fluxx or playing with undead baddies.

    Performance: There are a number of concepts to understand when playing Zombie Fluxx. First, as the name would suggest, the game is all about change. The basic rules are simple: draw a card and play a card. But the game evolves very quickly due to the nature of the cards.

    There are five card types. First are New Rule cards. With these cards, players actually begin to modify the rules of the game, and subsequent players must adapt to the new rules or try to change them. In many cases, new rules specify how many cards can be drawn or played during a turn, limit hand size or alter victory conditions.

    Keeper and Goal cards are used in conjunction to win the game. Once a Goal is played, that card defines the conditions for winning the game. It applies to all players at the table, and as soon as someone meets those conditions, they win.

    Players take Keeper cards out of their hand and place them in front of them on their turn. Most Goals require a player to have a particular pair of Keepers to win the game. The more Keepers a player has, the more likely he will meet the current Goal's victory conditions.

    The fourth variety of card is an Action. When an Action is played, the player does whatever the card tells him to do. Sometimes it will cause more cards to be played, allow you to steal cards from other players or even reset the rules.

    Finally, there are Creeper cards. These are the zombies! Creepers, unlike Keepers, are cards that you do not want, since, in most cases, they prevent you from winning. Creepers are kept with a player's Keepers and are played as soon as they are drawn. The nasty part about Creepers is that they do not count against the number of cards drawn or played, so you might end up with a truckload of zombies before you pull a card that isn't.
    Some Keepers, like the shotgun, chainsaw and baseball bat, can be used to kill zombies, which is a good thing because they're unnatural, and under normal circumstances, you can't win if you have a Creeper. Other Keepers, like the Sonic Tranquilizer, allow a player to ignore any zombies they have when trying to win.

    Players may also attempt to modify the rules of the game with cards like Zombies Ain't So Bad to nullify their zombie handicap. On the other hand, dastardly opponents might then steal important Keepers or turn them into Creepers!

    Zombie Fluxx can be played in as little as five minutes, but some games can last a half-hour or more. And while designed for two to six players, there really should be at least three players, especially for cards like the Zombie Shuffle, where zombies are moved from one player to another.

    Marketing: Once it's played, Zombie Fluxx is very easy to understand and is playable over and over again. While the box says that Zombie Fluxx is appropriate for ages 8 and up, 10 is probably more accurate on the whole; any younger and an adult should be present to help things run smoothly.

    Zombie Fluxx is compatible with original Fluxx, as well as EcoFluxx, Family Fluxx and Fluxx Español. The cards from any of these games can be added to Zombie Fluxx, or vice versa, to make games even more challenging.

    Reviewed by Tim Kidwell

    Product: Zombie Fluxx
    Maker: Looney Labs
    Stock No./MSRP: LOO-033, single game, $16; LOO-033-D, six-pack, $48 with 50% retail discount
    Availability: Call 301-441-1019, e-mail or visit

  • Fun and family friendly

  • Easy to learn

  • Great gateway to more sales

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    Quelf is a goofy party game for good sports
    Product: Quelf was the first product launched by Wiggity Bang Games in 2005. The company now offers a premiere edition of the game. Quelf includes 550 cards in five categories (Roolz, Quizzle, Stuntz, Showbiz and Scatterbrainz), a game board, one die, one 30-second timer and eight character game pieces. Intended for ages 12 and up, the game can be played with three to eight players and is said to take about an hour to play.

    Performance: In theory, Quelf is straightforward. Players roll the die; draw a card; move forward or back, depending on whether they successfully follow the instructions on the card; and be the first character to make it to the end.

    But in practice, Quelf is altogether another creature. For starters, consider the names of some of the characters: Queen Spatula, the Platypus and Batbileg Chinzorig.

    Now, here are some of the actions my five fellow players and I had to perform: dancing, sniffing shoes and making a strange toast every time we sipped our drinks. One of my friends had to literally sit on her hands throughout the whole game because of a Roolz card. And those were just a few of the outlandish and embarrassing things we did.

    Keep this in mind when considering Quelf: it may be suited more for adults than kids. For example, one of the cards asks players to list all of the places they've been naked. Players need to be good sports because you really do have to make a fool out of yourself. And the game took us nearly two hours to play, rather than the hour indicated. But we laughed so hard, our neighbors probably wondered what was going on.

    Marketing: The cards are what make people want to play the game, so display some. Group Quelf in with other similar party games and perhaps go with a "cabin fever" board-game theme.

    Reviewed by Joni Keller with Sue Brettingen

    Product: Quelf
    Maker: Wiggity Bang Games
    ISBN: 978-0-64184-536-9
    MSRP: $29.95
    Availability: Call Matthew or Heather at 619-269-1076, e-mail or visit

  • Hilarity abounds

  • Oddball and unique rules

  • Suitable primarily for adults

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    Dark Horse Deluxe brings out Hellboy Animated mini-busts
    Product: One of Dark Horse Comic's most popular properties is the Hellboy franchise. The stories revolve around Hellboy, an otherworldly government agent fighting supernatural baddies, and his fellow agents at the BPRD (Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense).

    Starting as a comic, Hellboy has become a major motion picture (with a sequel, Hellboy: The Golden Army, due out in July), an animated series and has spawned a number of licensed products, from trading cards and action figures to stationery.

    Based on the animated series, the busts represent Hellboy and his associates Liz Sherman, Abe Sapien and Kate Corrigan. The mini-busts are limited to runs of 1,200 pieces and sculpted by Tim Bruckner, an artist who has done work for Hasbro, DC Direct and The Franklin Mint.

    Each mini-bust is safely packaged in Styrofoam and only requires the bust be put on the base via a small pin.

    Performance: The Hellboy Animated mini-busts are accurate renditions of the cartoon characters. Each is hand-painted and can be rotated on its base to suit your customers' tastes. The bust's base is emblazoned with the hand-and-sword badge of the BPRD. The bottom of every base is numbered.

    Marketing: Enthusiasts of Hellboy should find the series of four limited-edition mini-busts interesting. And with Hellboy popularity likely to spike again in the coming year, it may not be a bad idea to stock these collectibles with others that you may already have.

    There is crossover from genre to genre, so moviegoers are likely to find the busts for the animated series suitable to their tastes. Display the bright and eye-catching busts prominently, keeping the boxes for repackaging after sales, much like you would for die-cast vehicles.

    Reviewed by Tim Kidwell

    Product: Hellboy Animated mini-busts
    Maker: Dark Horse Deluxe
    Stock Nos.: Hellboy, 13933; Abe Sapien, 13932; Liz Sherman, 13934; Kate Corrigan, 13935
    MSRP: $39.99
    Availability: Contact Jonathan Quesenberry or visit

  • Quality craftsmanship

  • Draw for Hellboy fans

  • Movie tie-ins for 2008

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    Give astronomy a whirl with Spinning Globe: Night Sky
    Product: Are you looking for something that will get your young customers into astronomy? Do you want to include more educational items in your product mix? Then you may want to consider carrying Spinning Globe: Night Sky.

    Performance: Spinning Globe: Night Sky consists of a 54-page book with full-color illustrations and a constellations globe, which requires some basic assembly. You just click the two halves of the globe together and either slide it into the binder of the book with a spindle or position it on a stand; both spindle and stand are included.

    Besides being fun to spin, the globe allows for interactive and educational experiences. Every other page in the book contains a "Spin the globe and find …" sidebar that invites readers to locate stars and constellations.

    The book covers an array of cosmic topics in comprehensible text: stars, the Milky Way, galaxies and nebulae, the northern and southern hemispheres, comets and asteroids, the planets, and the sun and moon. Each section is full of photographs, illustrations and diagrams.

    Although so much information may be overwhelming, especially to an 8-year-old (the minimum age recommended for this product), it's presented in small- to medium-length paragraphs so that readers can read a little bit at a time and easily pick up where they left off.

    Marketing: This book is a great educational tool for children, but adults will enjoy it as well. Open up the box that the book comes in and display the globe in the book binder or on the stand so that customers can see and spin it. Consider the book with the rest of your astronomy-related products, because it's one way to pique people's interest concerning the topic. If you have any customers who are teachers or homeschoolers, make them aware of this book too.

    Reviewed by Sue Brettingen

    Product: Spinning Globe: Night Sky by Jon Kirkwood
    Maker: Silver Dolphin Books
    ISBN: 978-1-59223-644-2
    MSRP: $18.95
    Availability: Call Publishers Group West at 510-528-1444, e-mail or visit

  • Good introduction to astronomy

  • Globe adds interactive element

  • Aimed at kids, but also for adults

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    The Farm Tractor an informative record of mighty machines
    Product: Author and professional photographer Ralph Sanders brings 30 years' of experience "shooting" new and vintage machinery to an overview of a century of farm tractors in The Farm Tractor: 100 Years of North American Tractors.

    Performance: The book's strength is in its pictures, history and technical stats. The pictures are of professional quality. Carefully structured settings represent the salient aspects of these antique machines to their best advantage. Combined with period ads, they suggest a time when daring farmers gave up horses for machines; when farm wives stood on porches, hands on hips, shaking their heads; and when kids got home from school to some of the biggest surprises of their lives.

    Discussions of innovations of the fledging tractor industry put the pictures in context. Bob Feller's forward is one of the best synopses of a century of tractor history I have yet read, identifying trends that the author develops in pictures. We learn of several industry firsts and meet the tractors in pictures: the Allis Chalmers U (first on rubber), the Ford/Ferguson (first North American three-point hitch), the John Deere GP (first power lift), the 1923 Farmall (first to do everything: plowing, planting, cultivating and belt work), the Minneapolis UTS (first LP Gas tractor), and the Oliver 70 (one of the first "styled" tractors).

    Technical data regarding engine sizes, horsepower and numbers manufactured, in most cases, follows the data reported by the University of Nebraska tests rather closely.

    There are some glitches: the bore and stroke dimensions for the Allis models A, B and C don't always agree with the reported cubic inches of displacement. Belt horsepower is given as drawbar horsepower for the Case 400. The John Deere 420 had 27.08 horsepower, not the 37.08 reported. And the Farmall Regular, reported to spin at 2100 RPM, actually clocked 1200.

    Amusingly, J.I. Case, the pioneering manufacturer is reported to have died both in 1886, and 1891. One wonders how he did that.

    Marketing: Despite these few problems, this is a good pictorial and historical look at the period. Capable of serving as an introduction to the novice, or a reference for the advanced modeler, die-cast model collector or hardcore rebuilder of old iron, it is a useful addition to any tractor fan's library.

    Reviewed by James Bray

    Product: The Farm Tractor: 100 Years of North American Tractors by Ralph Sanders
    Maker: Voyageur Press
    ISBN: 978-0-7603-3074-6
    MSRP: $40
    Availability: MBI Publishing; call 715-294-3345 (U.S.) or 905-951-6600 (Canada), e-mail or visit

  • Very nice photographs

  • Accurate technical data

  • Valuable resource

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