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Quadcopters, by virtue of software-piloting rather than human-piloting, are capable of new modes of flight. I've seen one in which the machine maintains altitude despite the loss of two rotors by spinning (yaw).

I wonder about a different mode, though; if a quadcopter could maintain a very high degree of pitch, then the flight is closer to a very short 4-engine X-wing aeroplane. This would be the advantage of a tiltrotor; after takeoff, rotate into the near-vertical position and permit much higher rates as we are no longer limited by usual helicopter dissymetry of lift arguments.

Is this possible? Are there other modes beyond the capacities of traditional aircraft? E.g. yaw spinning in the forward pitch position, coast-and-burn by varying the pitch periodically to switch between gaining altitude and gaining forward momentum, etc.

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  • $\begingroup$ I'd imagine the control to be similar to a tandem rotor helicopter $\endgroup$ – ratchet freak Feb 20 '14 at 9:39
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    $\begingroup$ All modes of flight of a quadcopter are beyond that of a traditional aircraft. Traditional aircraft have wings, no rotors. At sustained very high pitch the quadrotor will accelerate and then crash because of the lack of lift. $\endgroup$ – DeltaLima Feb 21 '14 at 7:04
  • $\begingroup$ flitetest have a review of a quadcopter/airplane hybrid: flitetest.com/articles/Quadshot $\endgroup$ – lexu Dec 28 '14 at 9:49
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As DeltaLima noted, pretty much all flight modes of a quadcopter are "non-traditional" -- they're a relatively new aircraft design.

Most quadcopter designs lack anything resembling "wings", so they can't "fly" in an "X-Wing" orientation (with the rotors producing entirely lateral thrust) -- at least not as we traditionally define flight.

They can, as you surmised, do a climb-and-run maneuver in that orientation: Gain a lot of altitude by using vertical thrust, tilt the platform near-90-degrees in the direction you want to travel (so your thrust is pretty much lateral), and accelerate in that direction while rapidly losing altitude.

I've no idea if this is more or less efficient than the usual slight tilt they fly with, but it's certainly less stable since you're in vertical free-fall and would need to redirect thrust to be vertical again with enough time/altitude to arrest the descent before an ungraceful impact with the ground.

X-Wings work so well because the microgravity environment of deep space isn't trying to drag you back to an impact with the ground - it wouldn't work well deep in a planet's gravity well, which is where most of our aircraft operate.
Of course if you had access to a microgravity environment with an atmosphere you could configure a quadcopter to fly like an X-Wing fighter…


The quadcopter's thrust configuration does open up the option for some interesting maneuvers though.

It's theoretically possible to "flip" a quadcopter (around at least 8 axes) if you have sufficient altitude (especially if the rotors can be reversed in flight to assist in the maneuvers).

It's also possible to "rock the wings" (really rocking the whole platform) in many directions by alternating thrust on pairs of rotors.

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There are UAVs that are designed to do just what you are describing. I have no idea about how efficient they are. But you can take a look at the Parrot Swing as one example. It can take-off and hover as a quadcopter, but can transition to an airplane.

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