These RC Helicopter Acrobatics Aren’t AI Fakes, If You Can Believe It

Odds are you've never seen helicopters move like this before.
A remote-controlled helicopter flying upside down in front of a golden arch
@tareqalsaadiuae on Instagram

A helicopter is a crime against the laws of physics, and it’s a miracle that they’re able to take flight in the first place. To travel in one is to tempt fate; to fly one is to dare the gods to cast you down like Icarus. But to do whatever these remote-controlled chopper aerobats are doing is tantamount to slaying the gods and taking their throne because nothing but divine intervention explains how their craft stays aloft.

I utter such blasphemies with regard to a video from the Dubai Master RC 2024 Aircraft Competition, a “freestyle” flight event for RC helicopters. In short, contestants get three minutes to show off what they can do with an RC chopper, either whipping tricks like a fully airborne X Games or performing a routine to music. Obviously there’s only one correct song choice: Geddan.

My initial reaction to seeing this video in an era of AI-generated slop that pollutes the internet was skepticism. The helis move like going to the store, putting them squarely in the uncanny valley. Looking up the name of the uploader Tareq Alsaadi though, I found more footage that showed not only these tricks are real, but also one of the ways flyers manipulate their aircraft. One video where Alsaadi performs a solo act shows a preflight check of blade pitch adjustment—bingo, that’s how they reverse the direction of thrust on a dime.

As for the rest, it’s still beyond me, because I only thought I could fly a helicopter because I was good with the Little Bird in “Battlefield 3.” But now I know there are people who can buzz around the real sky looking like they’re playing “Arma” with 900 ping. And there are some things I’m content watching rather than trying for myself.

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