The VertiBird helicopter was the name of a line of toy helicopters made by Mattel between 1971 and the early 1980s. It flies around a central base containing an electric motor, spring lift assist, pitch control, batteries, and a throttle. A 21-inch arm with pitch control rod and the spindle that transfers the power to helicopter via drive springs and drive rod, is connected from the central base to the helicopter.
The original playset has a space theme appropriate for the space age attitude of the 1970s. The first set was reminiscent of the Project Mercury program. Later versions of the VertiBird would continue to revisit the space theme as well as other popular television and movie themes of the 1970s and early 1980s time frames.
The helicopter is controlled using a two lever control unit. The controls operate similar to a real helicopter. The throttle control provides proportional control of the blade speed. The pitch control provides for tilting the Vertibird forward or backward. During flight the VertiBird is subject to the same physical flight characteristics as a real helicopter.
This included ground-effects for low level hovering, plus altitude gains and losses when changing direction. Overall the Mattel VertiBird is easy to learn how to pilot for basic flight, but precision flying will require some patience and time on the controls as in a real helicopter.
As noted there is a spring assist to lift the VertiBird. However, in actual operation the assist is not enough to lift the VertiBird off the ground. Most of the lift comes the spinning rotor itself. Subsequently, dropping heavy items during flight will result in a very rapid ascension of the VertiBird unless the pilot has good flight skills.
Mattel designed the set with the young flyer in mind. The VertiBird can take quite a beating during crashes and toybox storage. This design has resulted in a toy that has survived over 38 years and remains as fun today as it was when VertiBird first came on the market back in 1971.
The one exception to the required VertiBird flight skills was the introduction of the Space: 1999 themed playset, which did not feature the "VertiBird" branding on its packaging elements. The Space: 1999 version was the one playset which abandoned the original concept in favor of a look and feel to match television series. The set had controls were radically different from the standard VertiBird controls. The Eagle was fully supported by controls. The set used only two C-cell sized batteries. The throttle provided nothing more a switch to spin the rotor. Effectively there was no lift provided by the rotor and instead all lifting is performed with the controls using hand strength. This set would not be a good version for the first time VertiBird pilot wanting to have a true VertiBird experience. Considered notable only for its Space: 1999 theme tie in and high collector value. But otherwise a poorly performing VertiBird set. The later Battlestar Galactica playset successfully blended the VertiBird concept with a space theme.
Nowadays, with more and more people collecting and restoring them, people are willing to pay over $400 for a working Vertibird. On July 31, 2006, a "mint in box" Vertibird sold for $500 on eBay, with 4 individual bidders bidding at least $400.
Earlier eBay sales were also noted for final sale prices in excess of $1200.00 for the extremely rare Space: 1999 themed playset in unplayed, brand new condition. In 2005, a complete, near-mint condition set of the German "Libelle 12 Polizeihubschrauber" (considered by collectors to be the second-rarest worldwide VertiBird variant after the "Space: 1999" model) changed hands for $850 in a private sale.