Aerospace Engineer

What is this job like?

Aerospace engineers design primarily aircraft, spacecraft, satellites, and missiles. In addition, they test prototypes to make sure that they function according to design.

Aerospace engineers are employed in industries where workers design or build aircraft, missiles, systems for national defense, or spacecraft. Aerospace engineers work primarily for firms that engage in manufacturing, analysis and design, research and development, and for the federal government.

How do you get ready?

Aerospace engineers must have a bachelor’s degree in aerospace engineering or another field of engineering or science related to aerospace systems. Aerospace engineers who work on projects that are related to national defense may need a security clearance. U.S. citizenship may be required for certain types and levels of clearances.

Engineers should be creative, inquisitive, analytical, and detail-oriented. They should be able to work as part of a team and to communicate well, both orally and in writing. Communication abilities are becoming increasingly important as engineers interact more frequently with specialists in a wide range of fields outside engineering.

How much does this job pay?

The median annual wage for aerospace engineers was $105,380 in May 2014. 

How many jobs are there?

Aerospace engineers held about 72,500 jobs in 2014.

What about the future?

Employment of aerospace engineers is projected to decline 2 percent from 2014 to 2024.

Aircraft are being redesigned to cut down on noise pollution and to raise fuel efficiency, which will help sustain demand for research and development.       

Some information on this page has been provided by the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics.

More details ⇣: 

Overview:

Aerospace engineers design primarily aircraft, spacecraft, satellites, and missiles. In addition, they test prototypes to make sure that they function according to design.

Aerospace engineers typically do the following:

  • Direct and coordinate the design, manufacture, and testing of aircraft and aerospace products
  • Assess proposals for projects to determine if they are technically and financially feasible
  • Determine if proposed projects will result in safe aircraft and parts
  • Evaluate designs to see that the products meet engineering principles, customer requirements, and environmental challenges
  • Develop acceptance criteria for design methods, quality standards, sustainment after delivery, and completion dates
  • Ensure that projects meet quality standards
  • Inspect malfunctioning or damaged products to identify sources of problems and possible solutions

Aerospace engineers may develop new technologies for use in aviation, defense systems, and spacecraft. They often specialize in areas such as aerodynamic fluid flow; structural design; guidance, navigation, and control; instrumentation and communication; robotics; and propulsion and combustion.

Aerospace engineers can specialize in designing different types of aerospace products, such as commercial and military airplanes and helicopters; remotely piloted aircraft and rotorcraft; spacecraft, including launch vehicles and satellites; and military missiles and rockets.

Aerospace engineers often become experts in one or more related fields: aerodynamics, thermodynamics, celestial mechanics, flight mechanics, propulsion, acoustics, and guidance and control systems.

Aerospace engineers typically specialize in one of two types of engineering: aeronautical engineering or astronautical engineering.

Aeronautical engineers work with aircraft. They are involved primarily in designing aircraft and propulsion systems, and in studying the aerodynamic performance of aircraft and construction materials. They work with the theory, technology, and practice of flight within Earth’s atmosphere.

Astronautical engineers work with the science and technology of spacecraft and how they perform inside and outside Earth’s atmosphere.

Aeronautical and astronautical engineers face different environmental and operational issues in designing aircraft and spacecraft. However, the two fields overlap a great deal because they both depend on the basic principles of physics.

Work Environment:

Aerospace engineers held about 72,500 jobs in 2014. They are employed in industries where workers design or build aircraft, missiles, systems for national defense, or spacecraft. Aerospace engineers work primarily for firms that engage in manufacturing, analysis and design, research and development, and for the federal government.

Aerospace engineers now spend more of their time in an office environment than they have in the past, because modern aircraft design requires the use of sophisticated computer equipment and software design tools, modeling, and simulations for tests, evaluation, and training.

Aerospace engineers work with other professionals involved in designing and building aircraft, spacecraft, and their components. Therefore, they must be able to communicate well, divide work into manageable tasks, and work with others toward a common goal.

Aerospace engineers typically work full-time. Engineers who direct projects must often work extra hours to monitor progress, to ensure that the design meets requirements, to determine how to measure aircraft performance, to see that production meets design standards, and to ensure that deadlines are met.

Education and Training:

Aerospace engineers must have a bachelor’s degree in aerospace engineering or another field of engineering or science related to aerospace systems. Aerospace engineers who work on projects that are related to national defense may need a security clearance. U.S. citizenship may be required for certain types and levels of clearances.

High school students interested in studying aerospace engineering should take courses in chemistry, physics, and math, including algebra, trigonometry, and calculus.

Bachelor’s degree programs include classroom, laboratory, and field studies in subjects such as general engineering principles, propulsion, stability and control, structures, mechanics, and aerodynamics, which is the study of how air interacts with moving objects.

Some colleges and universities offer cooperative programs in partnership with regional businesses, which give students practical experience while they complete their education. Cooperative programs and internships enable students to gain valuable experience and to finance part of their education.

At some universities, a student can enroll in a 5-year program that leads to both a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree upon completion. A graduate degree will allow an engineer to work as an instructor at a university or to do research and development. Programs in aerospace engineering are accredited by ABET (formerly the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology).

Licensure is not required for entry-level positions as an aerospace engineer. A Professional Engineering (PE) license, which allows for higher levels of leadership and independence, can be acquired later in one’s career. Licensed engineers are called professional engineers (PEs). A PE can oversee the work of other engineers, sign off on projects, and provide services directly to the public. State licensure generally requires:

  • A degree from an ABET-accredited engineering program
  • A passing score on the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam
  • Relevant work experience, typically at least 4 years
  • A passing score on the Professional Engineering (PE) exam
  • The initial FE exam can be taken after one earns a bachelor’s degree. Engineers who pass this exam are commonly called engineers in training (EITs) or engineer interns (EIs).
  • After meeting work experience requirements, EITs and EIs can take the second exam, called the Principles and Practice of Engineering.

Eventually, aerospace engineers may advance to become technical specialists or to supervise a team of engineers and technicians. Some may even become engineering managers or move into executive positions, such as program managers.

Skills to Develop:

Analytical skills: Aerospace engineers must be able to identify design elements that may not meet requirements and then must formulate alternatives to improve the performance of those elements.

Business skills: Much of the work done by aerospace engineers involves meeting federal government standards. Meeting these standards often requires knowledge of standard business practices, as well as knowledge of commercial law.

Critical-thinking skills: Aerospace engineers must be able to translate a set of issues into requirements and to figure out why a particular design does not work. They must be able to ask the right question, then find an acceptable answer.

Math skills: Aerospace engineers use the principles of calculus, trigonometry, and other advanced topics in math for analysis, design, and troubleshooting in their work.

Problem-solving skills: Aerospace engineers use their education and experience to upgrade designs and troubleshoot problems when meeting new demands for aircraft, such as increased fuel efficiency or improved safety.

Writing skills: Aerospace engineers must be able both to write papers that explain their designs clearly and to create documentation for future reference.

Job Outlook:

Employment of aerospace engineers is projected to decline 2 percent from 2014 to 2024.

Aircraft are being redesigned to cut down on noise pollution and to raise fuel efficiency, which will help sustain demand for research and development. However, growth will be tempered because many of these engineers are employed in manufacturing industries that are projected to grow slowly or even decline.

Most of the work of aerospace engineers involves national defense-related projects or the design of civilian aircraft. Research-and-development projects, such as those related to improving the safety, efficiency, and environmental soundness of aircraft, should sustain demand for workers in this occupation.

Aerospace engineers who work on engines or propulsion will continue to be needed as the emphasis in design and production shifts to rebuilding existing aircraft so that they are less noisy and more fuel-efficient.

In addition, as governments refocus their space efforts, new companies are emerging to provide access to space beyond the access afforded by standard space agencies. The efforts of these companies will include low-orbit and beyond-earth-orbit capabilities for human and robotic space travel. Unmanned aerial vehicles will create some opportunities for aerospace engineers as authorities find domestic uses for them, such as finding missing persons lost in large tracts of forest or helping to put out forest fires.

Aerospace engineers who know how to use collaborative engineering tools and processes and who are familiar with modeling, simulation, and robotics should have good opportunities. Employment opportunities also should be favorable for those trained in computational fluid dynamics software, which has enabled companies to test designs in a digital environment, thereby lowering testing costs. Finally, the aging of workers in this occupation should help to create openings in it over the next decade.

Earnings:

The median annual wage for aerospace engineers was $105,380 in May 2014. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $66,110, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $155,240.

College Courses: 

Sample courses that might be required for a degree in Mechanical Engineering, one of the broadest engineering disciplines:

  • Basic Engineering
  • Thermal Dynamics
  • Thermal Systems
  • Fluid Mechanics
  • Heat Transfer
  • Computer Graphics
  • Mechanical Engineering Design
  • Mechanical Design 1, 2
  • Statics
  • Mechanics of Materials
  • Mechanisms
  • Dynamics of Machinery
  • Stress Analysis
  • Measurements and Experimentation
  • Circuits, Electronics and Experimentation
  • Circuits and Electronics Lab
  • Design Project
  • Engineering Electives (4)

Colleges will also require you to take some core undergraduate courses in addition to some electives. Required core courses and electives will vary from college to college. Here are a number of examples:

Arts and Humanities

  • Arts
  • History
  • Languages
  • Literature
  • Music

Math

  • Algebra
  • Calculus
  • Computer Science
  • Logic
  • Statistics

Natural Sciences

  • Astronomy
  • Biology
  • Chemistry
  • Environmental Science
  • Physics

Social Sciences

  • Anthropology
  • Economics
  • Government
  • Psychology
  • Sociology