The Aerial Regional-scale Environmental Surveyor (ARES) is a proposed project of NASA's Langley Research Centre that may very well launch the first plane that will fly on Mars. The plane will be rocket powered and once on Mars, will fly for about two hours at about 450 miles per hour.
The ARES plane will explore and provide detailed information of mountainous and rough regions on the Martian surface that is inaccessible by ground-based rovers. It would be flying at about a mile above the Martian surface collecting valuable data and measurements.
The aircraft will reach the Martian orbit via a carrier craft and it will be compacted in an aeroshell. This shell will prevent the fragile aircraft from burning up when entering the Martian atmosphere. It will also have a parachute that will decelerate the aeroshell as it blazes down the Martian skies.
After release from the carrier craft, the parachutes of the aeroshell will deploy and at an altitude of about 20 miles up, the ARES plane will leave its aeroshell and extend its wings and tail. After this is done, the rocket engines will fire.
After completing its 2 hour flight, the ARES plane will have covered more than 932 miles or unexplored Martian terrain and will have given us a much better understanding of the planet. Right now, the ARES team already has a half-scale prototype that have successfully completed tests and drills that prove that it can fly on the Martian surface. The team is hoping that the ARES plane will be selected for the next Mars Scout Mission in 2011.