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Inside the NASA Lab That Builds Model Airplanes

This illustration shows what a Prandtl-M might look like flying above the surface of Mars.

This illustration shows what a Prandtl-M might look like flying above the surface of Mars. // NASA

Think model airplanes are just a toy? At NASA Armstrong's Sub-scale Research Lab, experiments in model aircraft can change the future of spaceflight.

"We use small-scale unmanned aircraft to test out theories and ideas before they go onto the manned world," said Robert Jensen, operations engineer and pilot at the Sub-scale Flight Research Lab.

These hand-held planes have helped increase the efficiency of rockets and to develop crash safety systems.

Currently, the lab is working on a type of wing, called the Prandtl, which has a unique shape that may just help get us to Mars.

"The full-scale pilots are often down here telling me I have a cool job, and I find that pretty ironic," Jensen said.

To see these small-scale aircraft in action, check out the video below from Wired

By Caitlin Fairchild March 23, 2017

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