An aerospace engineer could...
|Work on the team planning a shuttle trip to service the Hubble Space Telescope.||Design airplane wings that change shape to enhance maneuverability.|
|Design satellite phone technology so that data can be sent and received from remote areas.||Build satellites that help us monitor global climate changes from space.|
Key Facts & Information
|Overview||Humans have always longed to fly and to make other things fly, both through the air and into outer space—aerospace engineers are the people that make those dreams come true. They design, build, and test vehicles like airplanes, helicopters, balloons, rockets, missiles, satellites, and spacecraft.|
|Key Requirements||Creativity, curiosity, strong math and analytical skills, teamwork, good written and verbal ability, and attention to detail.|
|Minimum Degree||Bachelor's degree|
|Subjects to Study in High School||Chemistry, physics, computer science, algebra, geometry, calculus, computer science, English; if available, applied technology, statistics|
|Projected Job Growth (2010-2020)||More Slowly than Average (3% to 6%)|
|Interview||Watch an interview with a real aeronautical engineer who started his career as a teenager, designing his own model airplanes, at DragonflyTV, courtesy of pbskidsgo.org.|
Training, Other Qualifications
Aerospace engineers typically enter the occupation with a bachelor's degree in an engineering specialty, but some basic research positions may require a graduate degree. Engineers offering their services directly to the public must be licensed. Continuing education to keep current with rapidly changing technology is important for engineers.
Education and Training
A bachelor's degree in engineering is required for almost all entry-level aerospace engineering jobs. College graduates with a degree in a natural science or mathematics may occasionally qualify for some engineering jobs, especially in specialties that are in high demand. Most engineering degrees are granted in electrical, electronics, mechanical, or civil engineering. However, engineers trained in one branch may work in related branches. For example, many aerospace engineers have training in mechanical engineering. This flexibility allows employers to meet staffing needs in new technologies and specialties in which engineers may be in short supply. It also allows engineers to shift to fields with better employment prospects or to those that more closely match their interests.
Most engineering programs involve a concentration of study in an engineering specialty, along with courses in both mathematics and the physical and life sciences. Many programs also include courses in general engineering. A design course, sometimes accompanied by a computer or laboratory class, or both, is part of the curriculum of most programs. General courses not directly related to engineering, such as those in the social sciences or humanities, are also often required.
Graduate training is essential for engineering faculty positions and many research and development programs, but is not required for the majority of entry-level engineering jobs. Many experienced engineers obtain graduate degrees in engineering or business administration to learn new technology and broaden their education. Many high-level executives in government and industry began their careers as engineers.
Admissions requirements for undergraduate engineering schools include a solid background in mathematics (algebra, geometry, trigonometry, and calculus) and science (biology, chemistry, and physics), with courses in English, social studies, and humanities. Bachelor's degree programs in engineering typically are designed to last 4 years, but many students find that it takes between 4 and 5 years to complete their studies. In a typical 4-year college curriculum, the first 2 years are spent studying mathematics, basic sciences, introductory engineering, humanities, and social sciences. In the last 2 years, most courses are in engineering, usually with a concentration in one specialty. Some programs offer a general engineering curriculum; students then specialize on the job or in graduate school.
Some engineering schools have agreements with 2-year colleges whereby the college provides the initial engineering education, and the engineering school automatically admits students for their last 2 years. In addition, a few engineering schools have arrangements that allow students who spend 3 years in a liberal arts college studying pre-engineering subjects and 2 years in an engineering school, studying core subjects to receive a bachelor's degree from each school. Some colleges and universities offer 5-year master's degree programs. Some 5-year or even 6-year cooperative plans combine classroom study and practical work, permitting students to gain valuable experience and to finance part of their education.
Aerospace 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 frequently interact with specialists in a wide range of fields outside engineering.
Nature of the Work
Watch this NASA eClips video to see how aerospace engineers designed the gumdrop shape of the Apollo space capsule.
Aerospace engineers design, develop, and test aircraft, spacecraft, and missiles, as well as supervise the manufacture of these products. Those who work with aircraft are called aeronautical engineers, and those who work specifically with spacecraft are called astronautical engineers. Aerospace engineers develop new technologies for use in aviation, defense systems, and space exploration, often specializing in areas such as structural design, guidance, navigation and control, instrumentation and communication, or production methods. They also may specialize in a particular type of aerospace product, such as commercial aircraft, military fighter jets, helicopters, spacecraft, or missiles and rockets, and may become experts in aerodynamics, thermodynamics, celestial mechanics, propulsion, acoustics, or guidance and control systems.
Most aerospace engineers work in office buildings, laboratories, or industrial plants. Others may spend time outdoors at construction or test sites, where they monitor or direct operations, or solve onsite problems. Some engineers travel extensively to plants or worksites, both in the United States and abroad.
Many engineers work a standard 40-hour week. At times, deadlines or design standards may bring extra pressure to a job, requiring engineers to work longer hours.
On the Job
- Formulate conceptual design of aeronautical or aerospace products or systems to meet customer requirements.
- Direct and coordinate activities of engineering or technical personnel designing, fabricating, modifying, or testing of aircraft or aerospace products.
- Develop design criteria for aeronautical or aerospace products or systems, including testing methods, production costs, quality standards, and completion dates.
- Plan and conduct experimental, environmental, operational and stress tests on models and prototypes of aircraft and aerospace systems and equipment.
- Evaluate product data and design from inspections and reports for conformance to engineering principles, customer requirements, and quality standards.
- Formulate mathematical models or other methods of computer analysis to develop, evaluate, or modify design according to customer engineering requirements.
- Write technical reports and other documentation, such as handbooks and bulletins, for use by engineering staff, management, and customers.
- Analyze project requests and proposals and engineering data to determine feasibility, productibility, cost, and production time of aerospace or aeronautical product.
- Review performance reports and documentation from customers and field engineers, and inspect malfunctioning or damaged products to determine problem.
- Direct research and development programs.
Companies That Hire Aerospace Engineers
Explore what you might do on the job with one of these projects...
- A Change in the Winds: Studying Bernoulli's Principle
- A Cure for Hooks and Slices? Asymmetric Dimple Patterns and Golf Ball Flight
- Aerodynamics and Hockey: Does the Force of Drag Have an Effect on the Distance the Puck Will Travel?
- Aerodynamics and Ice Hockey
- Aerodynamics of a Football
- Aerodynamics of Air Hockey
- Altitude and Elevation
- An Uplifting Project—The Buoyancy of Balloons
- Bombs Away! A Ping Pong Catapult
- Build a Gauss Rifle!
- Catching Stardust
- Efficient Propeller Design
- Getting a Bang Out of Breath Spray: Studying the Chemistry and Physics of a Small Explosion
- Going the Distance: Launch Angles & Projectile Trajectory
- Helicopter Liftoff: How Does the Speed of the Rotor Affect the Amount of Lift?
- How Does a Hovercraft Work?
- How Far Will It Fly? Build & Test Paper Planes with Different Drag
- How High Can You Throw a Baseball? A Tennis Ball? A Football? A Golf Ball?
- How Low Can It Go? Design a Kite that Flies Best in Low Winds
- Into the Wild Blue Yonder: The Science of Launching an Airplane by Catapult
Do you have a specific question about a career in Aerodynamics & Hydrodynamics that isn't answered on this page? Post your question on Science Buddies Ask an Expert Forum.
- Aerospace Industries Association: www.aia-aerospace.org
- American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, Inc.: www.aiaa.org
- BLS. (2009). Occupational Outlook Handbook (OOH), 2008-09 Edition, Bureau of Labor Statistics. Retrieved May 1, 2009, from http://www.bls.gov/oco/
- O*Net Online. (2009). National Center for O*Net Development. Retrieved May 1, 2009, from http://online.onetcenter.org/
- TPT. (2006). Real Scientists. DragonflyTV, Twin Cities Public Television. Retrieved July 28, 2009, from http://pbskids.org/dragonflytv/scientists/scientist5.html
- NASA. (2009, July 7). NASA eClips: Aeronautics. Retrieved July 29, 2009, from http://www.nasa.gov/audience/foreducators/nasaeclips/launchpad/aeronautics.html
We'd like to acknowledge the additional support of:
- Northrop Grumman Corporation