The idea at first seems preposterous. But if you look a little closer, it begins to look, well, brilliant....
Lockheed Martin inventor Ronald Stroud has applied for a US patent (20090127381) for what he describes as a ring-winged rotor.
Though it might look like a toy, the ring-wing is designed for a very real purpose - a high altitude, long endurance (HALE) vehicle capable of reconnaissance, weather surveillance, communications relay, scientific observation or military operations.
The chief competitors for this technology, Stroud contends, are airships, satellites and heavier-than-air vehicles, all of which have significant drawbacks.
Airships are slow and have trouble in high winds (though Lockheed itself is hoping to prove the vehicles a viable fit for a HALE platform under a $400 million DARPA program); satellites are "extremely" expensive and can't be easily relocated; heavier-than-air vehicles tend to be fragile and difficult to control due to the very long wings needed to provide lift in low air density, high-altitude environment.
So why not take a bunch of those long slender wings, tie them together at the ends (to make elliptical rings) and spin them, one in one direction, the other in the opposite direction for lift?
Pictures in the patent app include a ring-wing viewed from the side and from the top...
The odd-looking result, powered by propellers or jet engines at the tips of the counter-rotating rings, promises to give HALE performance while taking off from short runways and handling more like a helicopter than an airplane, says Stroud.