The employment of engineers overall is expected to grow about as fast as average for all occupations. Aerospace engineers typically need a bachelor’s degree in engineering for entry-level positions. That said, a graduate degree may be necessary for some research positions. Starting salaries for engineers are usually some of the highest of all college graduates. To keep up with constantly changing technology, aerospace engineers must complete continuing education.
What Does an Aerospace Engineer Do?
Humanity is constantly pushing the limits of air and space travel, which means aerospace engineers are in demand to help bring various concepts into reality. An aerospace engineer designs, develops, tests, modifies, and maintains different types of air and space-bound flying craft. They work in teams that work together to bring any number of tasks to fruition and eventual use in their specific area of the aerospace industry.
The aerospace engineer works in fields that range from passenger airplanes to rockets that deploy satellites, the satellites themselves, and government air and space flight programs. The engineer works on a specific part of a given project, much like the cog in a machine. They work on a specific task in their specialty or focus, collaborate with other teams to make sure the work is valid and practical, and complete their deliverables in a way that it connects smoothly with other cogs in the machine.
An engineer learns how to engage in the engineering process from start to finish, but often winds up working in one or two areas of the process. This enables the engineer to put their focus on their particular skills and strengths and eventually become an expert. The roles of an engineer include:
- Review and evaluate proposals and designs
- Determine the feasibility of the project
- Figure out the costs and production timeframes
- Check design requirements
- Create prototypes of the product and check their function
- Send the final and approved designs into production
- Make sure the manufacturing process results in a consistent product
- Test the initial batch of products for proper function
- Check the product against quality standards
- Find problems and defects that were introduced during manufacturing and fix them
- Put the product into production once all bugs have been fixed, and a consistent product is being produced
These are some of the general duties and roles an aerospace engineer engages in during their career. You may also encounter duties that are specific to the type of work you’re engaged in.
Is Aerospace Engineering a Good Career Path?
Aerospace engineering is an attractive career path for aspiring engineers who have an interest in objects that fly. An aerospace engineer is someone who works on satellites, rockets, airplanes, spacecraft, and more. The field requires specialized knowledge that is learned through both undergraduate and graduate degree programs.
If you’re someone who loves mathematics, science, physics, and computer programming, you’ll enjoy the challenges that come with being an aerospace engineer. It’s a highly satisfying career that calls on problem solving skills and creativity.
The field of aerospace engineering is expected to grow at a steady pace over the next ten years. Engineers with the training to pursue careers in the aerospace sector can position themselves for a rewarding career with attractive earning potential.
How to Become an Aerospace Engineer
There are different educational routes to becoming an aerospace engineer, beginning with an undergraduate degree. The most direct route is to earn a bachelor’s in an aerospace concentration or earn an engineering degree in a concentration that’s adjunct to aerospace.
1. Start preparing for the degree during high school
Taking advanced math and science classes prepares you for the next level of mathematics, physics, and related sciences you’ll learn during your undergraduate degree education. Some of the classes include trigonometry, calculus, computer science, computer-aided design, and probability and statistics. Work towards getting good grades as this helps improve your chances of attending a school with a highly-regarded aerospace engineering degree program.
2. Earn a Bachelor’s of Science in Aerospace Engineering
A student who is certain that they want to become an aerospace engineer gets started by earning their Bachelor’s of Science in Aerospace Engineering (BSAE). Make sure that the school of choice has accreditation from the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET). This ensures the education you receive is in line with accepted educational standards.
3. Take internship opportunities that align with your career goals
Internships help you get a feel for the job duties related to the role, insight as to how your education is used on the job, and what it’s like to work in a collaborative environment. Check for an internship program that’s offered by the school you wish to attend. You’ll gain invaluable experience and open up the potential for future employment with the company you are interning at.
4. Earn a graduate degree in aerospace engineering
A graduate degree isn’t a necessity when it comes to starting your career, but it does enable you to build upon your undergraduate degree. The master’s degree allows you to further refine your knowledge in a specific area of aerospace engineering. Some engineering schools offer a combined bachelor’s-master’s degree program that takes five years to complete and lets you graduate with a Master’s in Aerospace Engineering.
5. Apply for jobs at the entry-level
A newly graduated aerospace engineer is considered an apprentice or junior engineer for the first five to seven years of their career. This is due to the fact that the graduate has an education, but not a lot of practical experience in the field of aerospace engineering. They need to gain on-the-job experience to show that they’re capable of using what they’ve learned in a real-world setting. This period of time also helps the junior aerospace engineer build their foundational knowledge and find the area of engineering they excel in.
6. Find work in an engineering field related to aerospace engineering
You may not be able to find employment in the aerospace industry after you graduate for any number of reasons. However, your education is still valuable, and you can find employment in fields that are related to aerospace. It’s possible to get your career started, gain invaluable knowledge and experience, then apply for jobs in the aerospace industry when an opportunity arises.
7. Get FE/PE certifications
The National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying offers FE and PE certifications for engineers that prove an engineer’s capabilities to the world at large. The FE, or Fundamentals of Engineering exam, is aimed at students and recent graduates of an EAC/ABET accredited program. The Principals and Practice of Engineering, or PE exam, is for engineers who have worked in their chosen field of engineering for at least four years after graduating. Both certifications help students and graduates find employment as they show an employer the applicant has proficiency in their area of engineering.
8. Join professional organizations
The engineering discipline has multiple branches and even more disciplines under each branch. There are professional organizations that cover and support just about every one of these branches and disciplines. When it comes to aerospace engineering, the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA), the Aerospace Industries Association (AIA), and the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) are all top organizations in terms of resources, connections, employment leads, and continuing education.
Training, Other Qualifications and Advancement for Aerospace Engineers
A bachelor’s degree in engineering is required for most entry-level jobs for aerospace engineers. However, on occasion, some employers hire college graduates with mathematics or natural science degrees. Typically aerospace engineers must earn a degree in either mechanical engineering, civil engineering or electrical and electronics engineering. Those trained in one branch can then work in related branches. The flexibility means that aerospace engineers could work in another specialty when employment demands fluctuate.
While most aerospace engineers earn a traditional 4-year bachelor’s degree, 2-year and 4-year engineering technology degrees are also offered at many colleges. These programs focus less on theoretical and scientific principles and more on hands-on training and current issues in the application of engineering principles. Graduates from these programs typically get jobs similar to aerospace engineers with bachelor’s degrees, though their skill level is lower – somewhere between an engineer and a technician.
Some schools offer special engineering programs. For example, some schools partner with 2-year colleges to allow students to do their core curriculum their before attending engineering school. Others offer 5- or 6-year programs that include practical work that provides valuable experience and an opportunity for students to earn money to finance their education while at school.
Aerospace Engineer Licensure
All 50 states require aerospace engineers who offer services directly to the public to be licensed as professional engineers (PEs). To qualify, aerospace engineers must graduate from a program accredited by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET), have 4 years of relevant work experience and pass a state exam. Recent grads can start the process right away by taking one part of the exam upon graduation to become an engineer intern. Then, with sufficient work experience they can take the second part and complete the licensing process.
What Traits Should an Aerospace Engineer Have?
Aerospace engineers should also be inquisitive, detail oriented, analytical and creative. Teamwork and communication skills come in handy as they must collaborate with specialists in a wide range of fields beyond engineering. Those working for the Federal Government must be US citizens usually and often must old a security clearance.
At the entry-level aerospace engineers usually work under the supervision of more experienced engineers and may take classes or seminars on the job. With experience and knowledge comes responsibility, independence and more challenging projects. Later they may advance to supervisory or technical specialist positions. Some go on to become managers or take on sales roles in which they can explain the technical aspects of products and assist in installation and use.
Aerospace Engineering Job Outlook
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the job outlook for aerospace engineers is expected to grow 6% between 2021 and 2031. The rate of growth is the same as expected for overall job growth in the U.S. during this period. In 2021, there was a total of 58,800 engineering jobs in the aerospace engineering industry, and the field is expected to add a total of 3,700 new positions every year through 2031. Engineering jobs are mostly for in manufacturing industries and the professional, scientific and technical services industries. The government employs about 12 percent of engineers and about 3 percent are self-employed. Most of the job openings are expected to come from people who retire or leave the industry entirely, as opposed to employers creating new positions.
Earnings and Salary for Aerospace Engineers
The median annual salaries for aerospace engineers are $94,780. The highest 10 percent earned above $137,730, the lowest 10 percent earned under $59,500 and the middle 50 percent earned between $74,650 and $116,140. Aerospace engineers earn average stating salaries of $56,311, which is one of the highest starting salaries among those holding bachelor’s degrees.