Synopsis of Toy
“Throttle fast or slow- buzz high, dive low. Rescue the astronaut and whirl away!”
Some toys are destined to produce outrageously fond memories. Yearnings for the long-lost, long-gone but not forgotten plaything of childhood that, at the time, gave way to assumptions of permanence. And at the moment in which it was taken for granted, marooned to the garage or back of the closet, it also disappeared from the shelves. Realizing too late that the thing that brought such pleasure was no longer available.
In 1971 Mattel released, for the first time, the mighty VertiBird, a favorite of boys who bought toys at the time. VertiBird consisted of a miniature helicopter with actual spinning rotor and blades that was attached by a thin metal rod to a circular base and a control unit, allowing the heli-pilot to manipulate the speed, height and forward motion of the helicopter by a series of levers.
The base sat in the center of a “themed” play set, which usually involved some sort of rescue or “mission” motif such as the “Astronaut Rescue,” “Airborne Rescue Mission” or “Night Patrol” (glows in the dark!). As you flew VertiBird in a circle, you could dip slowly down to the play set and pick items or figures off of the ground with a hook assembly on the bottom of the helicopter. The motor in the helicopter was powerful enough to pick up the light plastic items included with the set, but just a bit too underpowered to be able to pick up other toys you might have. Many children found this out the hard way when trying to rescue their favorite action figure from a pool of lava (or some similar imagined life-threatening situation) only to have VertiBird be unable to lift-off, or worse yet, bend the connecting arm to the base rendering the helicopter “out of service.”
The assembly of the toy had some delicate parts that careless children could easily break due to improper storage or the ever-present threat of a parent’s heavy adult size foot stepping on it in the middle of the night. If that were to happen, it was “Goodnight VertiBird.” Unlike other toys, the VertiBird line did not endure, in any form, and by the early 1980’s Mattel had ceased production. If you had a broken VertiBird after that, that was all you were going to have.
VertiBird, like R/C vehicles or electric slot racing, offered a tantalizing control over an inanimate object. Immediate and precise movement responding to the physical command of the levers created the illusion that you were flying a real helicopter. That was a rare and special feeling for a child that usually has less decision-making power in choosing his or her lunch.
Most of the sets were built around generic missions, but in the late 1970’s Mattel made a licensed version of VertiBird that utilized the popular science-fiction television show Battlestar Galactica, with a “Viper” ship instead of a helicopter.
Other companies tried to duplicate the VertiBird in their own sets with varying degrees of success. Remco came out with a Star Trek licensed version that looked cooler than it worked. Marx, Stanzel, Lakeside, Ideal and Milton Bradley each released their own VertiBird, but none of them really equaled the original. Milton Bradley’s “Flying Thunder” set was a more recent attempt to revive the defunct toy line, but to no avail. Milton Bradley’s attempt just didn’t have the magic of the original VertiBird.
But in November of 2000 (just in time for Christmas) a new toy company, Jasman, released a more exacting duplicate of the original VertiBird. Already, advance units of this toy sell on Ebay at high prices. Of course, not for as much as original VertiBirds, which fetch up to $250.00 and more when complete in the box.
Nothing, however, will replace the glory of the original VertiBird and the illusory sense of freedom it provided.
Release History of ToyVertiBird Sets
VertiBird Air Police
VertiBird Airborne Rescue Mission
VertiBird Astronaut Rescue
VertiBird Battlestar Galactica
VertiBird Flying Aces Aircraft Carrier
VertiBird Night Patrol (glows in dark)
VertiBird Paramedic Rescue
VertiBird Polar Mission
Air Devils - Lakeside
Dareplane Stunter - Mattel
Electromic Copter - Stanzel
Flying Aces - Mattel
Flying Thunder - Milton-Bradley
Flying Devils - Lakeside
Pilot-A-Plane - Ripley Toys
Space Ranger - Marx
Star Bug Flying Star Craft - Stanzel
Twirly Birds - Ideal
Whirlybirds - Remco