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It’s an engine for your paper aeroplane.
Let’s face it, there are some products that are really easy to explain, and PowerUp’s titular PowerUp 4.0 is one of them. Using your smartphone to control a drone is not a new idea, but taking it away from the realm of heavy hovering expensive quadricopters and applying it to one of the great DiY kids toys? Yep, I’m all for that.
While it’s not priced at the same level as your DJI drones, the list price is £70 here in the UK, or $80 from the US website will make you stop and think about what you are getting. The main engine is a dual blade ‘pusher’ at one end of a plastic keel, while at the front you’ll find a rubber tip (for safety) alongside a small cockpit like structure that includes the rechargeable battery, bluetooth connectivity, and all the sensors required for flight. That's a lot of tech for the price.
Let’s put all the tech to one side, because all of this doesn’t matter if you are not going to have fun.
Good news... the Power Up paper aeroplane is immense fun to fly! There’s something joyously giddy about throwing my newly folded aeroplane into the air just as I did in times gone by. Then, in my mind, the paper would take off, soar through the air, fly around the park, and return to me. If I was lucky, it would obey all the laws of physics and gently glide to the floor, looping and turning depending on how I had set the surfaces.
Most of the time they would fly a little out of balance and rapidly create their own unexpected ground interface moment.
Now… after that throw into the air my aeroplane doesn’t dip towards the ground, it climbs away into the sky under my control. That loop can happen; or a fast dive and a low level speed run just above the ground; a carefully controlled circuit around the park; a pinpoint landing at my feet; all of that and more is possible.
One of the big question around the PowerUp system, is it easy to fly? The short answer is yes, but it’s not something you could do straight out of the box (or the paper by the side of the printer). There’s a short set of YouTube videos not just on holding your aeroplane but also on the safety procedures and considerations to make; not just ensuring you are in a big space, but thinking about wind, bluetooth range, and what you’re going to do if something does happen.
That idea of ‘thinking ahead’ you have when driving? It’s the same principle here.
Controlling your aeroplane is done through an app that connects to the engines and sensors over bluetooth (which itself limits the range; when your aeroplane moves out of range, it will glide back to earth in a straight line). Given you only have twin motors on the aeroplane you’ll be tilting your phone left and right to yaw the aeroplane into a turn, and by sliding your thumb up or down the screen you can throttle the engines for climbing and descending.
The awkward part for me was having to throw the aeroplane with my non-dominant hand, as the other was holding on to the phone getting ready to take control.
The on-board computer handles all the balancing of aerodynamic controls, which make this version of the Power system relatively forgiving on your folding skills. It also means that less conventional shapes and materials can take to the air. You might not get a barn door up, but a model of a barn door? Not a problem.
One of the other questions you’ll need to answer is which aeroplane to fold. As you open the packaging you have some pre-printed paper that will let you fold the entry level models - entry level means you’re looking at an aeroplane which is inherently stable and relatively slow while flying, making it easier to control and understand.
The team behind PowerUp have a number of folding guides on their Youtube channel, as well as packs of pre-printed templates and their ‘Paper Airplane” book which takes you through the folding of a number of tested models using blank paper; as well as rating the models for handling, speed, and endurance. Also on sale are your spare parts to help you out after ‘those’ moments; although even after a few weekends of flying everything is still (touch wood) intact.
There is a romance to flight, and PowerUp puts that into your smartphone with something tangible and almost magical. Remote Control aeroplanes have been around for a long time, but they always felt out of reach to me; expensive, fragile, and how do you learn to fly one when your first flight has to end in a successful landing.
PowerUp’s system answers all of that. It’s an investment but not a huge one; it’s a pretty robust system and most of the damage, in my experience, is confined to the paper (and you have spare parts both in the box and available at a reasonable price); and that first flight can happily end in heavy bump to the ground.
I don’t think there’s a middle ground on this one. You either can’t see the appeal, or you were sold at “it’s an engine for your paper aeroplane."
Disclaimer: PowerUp provided a review package of the PowerUp 4.0 RC Airplane Kit, PowerUp templates, and PowerUp Paper Airplane Book.
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