The aeroelastic response of a NACA 0012 airfoil in the flow regimes prior to flutter is investigated in a wind tunnel. We observe intermittent bursts of periodic oscillations in the pitch and plunge response, that appear in an irregular manner from a background of relatively lower amplitude aperiodic fluctuations. As the flow speed is increased, the intermittent bursts last longer in time until eventually transitioning to a fully developed periodic response, indicating the onset of flutter. The repeating patterns in the measured response are visualized using recurrence plots. We show that statistics of the recurrence states extracted from these plots can be used to develop model-free precursors that forewarn an impending transition to flutter, well before its onset. © 2015 Elsevier Ltd.