What They Do: Aerospace engineers primarily design aircraft, spacecraft, satellites, and missiles.
Work Environment: Aerospace engineers are employed in industries whose workers design or build aircraft, missiles, systems for national defense, or spacecraft. Aerospace engineers are employed primarily in manufacturing, analysis and design, research and development, and the federal government.
How to Become One: 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.
Salary: The median annual wage for aerospace engineers is $122,270.
Job Outlook: Employment of aerospace engineers is projected to grow 8 percent over the next ten years, about as fast as the average for all occupations.
Related Careers: Compare the job duties, education, job growth, and pay of aerospace engineers with similar occupations.
Aerospace engineers design primarily aircraft, spacecraft, satellites, and missiles. In addition, they create and test prototypes to make sure that they function according to design.
Aerospace engineers typically do the following:
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, materials, celestial mechanics, flight mechanics, propulsion, acoustics, and guidance and control systems.
Aerospace engineers typically specialize in one of two types of engineering: aeronautical or astronautical.
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 the Earth's atmosphere.
Astronautical engineers work with the science and technology of spacecraft and how they perform inside and outside the Earth's atmosphere. This includes work on small satellites such as cubesats, and traditional large satellites.
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.
Aerospace engineers hold about 61,400 jobs. The largest employers of aerospace engineers are as follows:
|Aerospace product and parts manufacturing||36%|
|Federal government, excluding postal service||17%|
|Navigational, measuring, electromedical, and control instruments manufacturing||9%|
|Research and development in the physical, engineering, and life sciences||8%|
Aerospace engineers are employed in industries in which workers design or build aircraft, missiles, systems for national defense, or spacecraft. They 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 designs meet requirements, to determine how to measure aircraft performance, to see that production meets design standards, to participate in test flights and first flights, and to ensure that deadlines are met.
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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.
Entry-level aerospace engineers usually need a bachelor's degree. High school students interested in studying aerospace engineering should take courses in chemistry, physics, advanced math, and computer programming and computer languages.
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.
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. Additionally, project management or systems engineering skills can be useful.
Critical-thinking skills.Aerospace engineers must be able to produce designs that meet governmental standards, 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.
Licensure for aerospace engineers is not as common as it is for other engineering occupations, nor it is required for entry-level positions. 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
The initial FE exam can be taken after earning 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.
Each state issues its own licenses. Most states recognize licensure from other states, as long as the licensing state's requirements meet or exceed their own licensure requirements. Several states require continuing education for engineers to keep their licenses.
During high school, students can attend engineering summer camps to see what these and other engineers do. Attending these camps can help students plan their coursework for the remainder of their time in high school.
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.
The median annual wage for aerospace engineers is $122,270. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earn more than that amount and half earn less. The lowest 10 percent earn less than $77,440, and the highest 10 percent earn more than $168,370.
The median annual wages for aerospace engineers in the top industries in which they work are as follows:
|Research and development in the physical, engineering, and life sciences||$128,020|
|Aerospace product and parts manufacturing||$126,780|
|Federal government, excluding postal service||$123,800|
|Navigational, measuring, electromedical, and control instruments manufacturing||$121,530|
Aerospace engineers typically work full time. Engineers who direct projects must often work extra hours to monitor progress, to ensure that designs meet requirements, to determine how to measure aircraft performance, to see that production meets design standards, and to ensure that deadlines are met.
Employment of aerospace engineers is projected to grow 8 percent over the next ten years, about as fast as the average for all occupations.
About 4,000 openings for aerospace engineers are projected each year, on average, over the decade. Many of those openings are expected to result from the need to replace workers who transfer to different occupations or exit the labor force, such as to retire.
Aircraft are being redesigned for less noise pollution and better fuel efficiency, particularly with the introduction of electric and hybrid-electric aircraft, which should help sustain demand for aerospace engineers in research and development.
Technological advancements have reduced the cost of launching satellites. As space becomes more accessible, especially with developments in small satellites that have greater commercial viability, demand for aerospace engineers among businesses and government entities is expected to increase. In addition, continued interest in drones will help to drive employment growth for these engineers.
|Occupational Title||Employment, 2020||Projected Employment, 2030||Change, 2020-30|
A portion of the information on this page is used by permission of the U.S. Department of Labor.