Some toys are forgotten within months of their initial release; others linger in the memory banks for decades after their demise. In the latter category resides the coolest helicopter to ever hit the scene, the one-and-only VertiBird. For anyone who ever had the pleasure of piloting one of these perpetually-circling choppers, it was an experience you wouldn’t soon forget.
The VertiBird was first introduced by Mattel in 1971 and quickly became a must-have item on every boy’s Christmas list. A small helicopter, spinning blades and all, was attached by a rod to a circular base and controlled by a series of levers that allowed young pilots to control altitude, direction and speed as they set out to complete various missions and rescue operations.
These missions involved using the VertiBird’s attached hook to pick up assorted plastic items that were included in the collection of themed sets – such as the “Astronaut Rescue,” “Airborne Rescue Mission” or glow-in-the-dark “Night Patrol” sets.
Many imaginative kids would experience the misfortune of assuming that the VertiBird could pick up other things besides the lightweight plastic accessories that came with the toy. But those accessories were lightweight for a reason – the ol’ VertiBird didn’t have a whole lot of power. Try to rescue GI Joe and you were likely to bend the arm connected to the base, rendering the craft inoperable.
And even if one took care to not tax the VertiBird’s lifting power, many a helicopter was prematurely decommissioned from service by being left out at night, only to be grounded after being stepped on. The VertiBird was a fragile beast, truth be told, and few made it out of childhood unscathed, making a working unit a valuable collectors item today.
In the late 70s, Mattel issued a Battlestar Galactica version of the VertiBird but the toy’s days were numbered and by the next decade, the beloved VertiBird was but a mere memory. Just about every other toy company would issue their own version over the next decade (Remco even issued a Star Trek version, complete with circling USS Enterprise) but none had the everlasting charm of the original.
Finally, in 2000, the Phoenix rose again when Jasman Toys introduced a replica of the original that not only fetched little plastic accessories, but also respectable prices on Ebay. An original working VertiBird, on the other hand, can be worth around $250 bucks or more, assuming it is in good condition and has all of the accessories intact.
It would seem that every child of the 70s still holds fond memories of this little helicopter that could. Long before RC vehicles would take over the market, it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to earn your wings and soar in endless circles – just like the news helicopters of the future.
If you have fond memories of piloting a Vertibird, or if it was one of those things that you always dreamed of owning, I hope you will share all of your recollections of this unforgettable toy in our comments section.