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Unmanned Sub-Scale Wing Morphing Test Aircraft

The Area-I PTERA subscale unmanned platform is being actively used by NASA to test wing morphing capabilities in-flight.
Authored By: Staff Writer | Last Edited: 10/8/2018
The PTERA is being used by the experts at NASA as a remotely-piloted research platform mimicking the form and function of a sub-scale Boeing 737 airliner. It is being used to test the validity of NASA's own "Spanwise Adaptive Wing" (SAW) which allows the wing mainplanes to "morph" at their outboard sections (15 inches out) up or down some 75-degrees. The purpose of this action is to improve control and stability while reducing drag caused by other components of an aircraft's design - namely the tail planes. Such sub-scale designs allow for more realistic testing between potentially lethal manned flights and expensive wind tunnel data-collection. The aircraft was constructed by Area-I, Incorporated.

PTERA underwent flight-testing during July 2013 and was delivered to the Armstrong Flight Research Center at Edwards AFB in California during October of 2014. Its first official flight was recorded on October 22nd, 2015 and all initial mission objectives were met including reaching a maximum speed of 145 knots.

Externally the aircraft certainly looks the part of a Boeing airliner with its tubular fuselage, short nosecone and single-finned tail unit. A fixed, tricycle landing gear arrangement provides the ground-running capability. The wing mainplanes are seated at midships and are not given sweepback of any kind. The horizontal planes at the tail are positioned low along the sides of the vertical fin. Various sensors and data-collecting systems are installed about the aircraft, identified by the various protrusions seen in its profile. The fuselage is designed as modular to more easily accept changes to its load out.

Power is from 2 x JetCat P200 engines offering 50lb of thrust each and these are fitted under each wing (as in Boeing 737 airliner).

Program Updates

September 2018 - On September 25th, 2018, the PTERA crashed and was destroyed during its post-landing roll. The crash occurred in clear weather at Armstrong Flight Research Center. An investigation is ongoing as to the cause.


Active, In-Service
[ 2 Units ] :
Area-I, Incorporated / NASA - USA
National flag of United States United States
- X-Plane / Developmental
- Unmanned
14.67 ft (4.47 m)
(Showcased structural dimension values pertain to the Area-I (NASA) PTERA production model)
(Showcased weight values pertain to the Area-I (NASA) PTERA production model)
2 x JetCat P200 engines developing 50lb of thrust each unit.
(Showcased powerplant information pertains to the Area-I (NASA) PTERA production model)
Maximum Speed:
168 mph (270 kph; 146 kts)
(Showcased performance values pertain to the Area-I (NASA) PTERA production model; Compare this aircraft entry against any other in our database)
(Showcased armament details pertain to the Area-I (NASA) PTERA production model)
PTERA - Base Series Name.

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