Aerospace Engineers Overview
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.
Nature of the Work for Aerospace Engineers
Aerospace engineers help link scientific discoveries and commercial applications that help consumer and societal needs. They develop economical solutions to technical problems by applying the principles of science and mathematics.
Some aerospace engineers work on developing new products. In order to do so they must consider several factors including determining the functional requirements, designing and testing the components, integrating them to produce a final design and evaluating the design’s reliability, safety, effectiveness and cost.
Beyond responsibilities in design and development, many aerospace engineers work in maintenance, production and testing. They may supervise product in factories, test products for quality or determine reasons for product failure. They also need to estimate costs and time for completing projects.
Computers help aerospace engineers to produce and analyze designs, generate specifications for parts, monitor product quality, control efficiency and simulate and test machines, structures and systems. Design processes are also changing due to nanotechnology, which involves integrating atoms and molecules to create high-performance materials and components.
Aerospace engineers are just one of the 17 engineering specialties covered in the Federal Government’s Standard Occupational Classification (SOC) system. Within each engineering specialty, workers may also specialize in a particular industry such as motor vehicles or type of technology such as semiconductor materials.
The duties of aerospace engineers include testing, designing and supervising the manufacture of spacecrafts, missiles and aircrafts. Aeronautical engineers work specifically with aircraft and astronautical engineers work specifically with spacecraft. Overall, aerospace engineers work on developing new technologies that can be used for space exploration, defense systems and aviation. Often aerospace engineers specialize in a particular area such as navigation and control, structural design, guidance, instrumentation and communication and production methods. In addition, they may specialize in a type of aerospace product such as helicopters, spacecraft, missiles and rockets, military fighter jets and commercial aircraft. Then they may also become experts in acoustics, propulsion, celestial mechanics, aerodynamics, thermodynamics or guidance and control systems.
Most aerospace engineers work in a lab, office or factory. Some may be required to travel to plants or worksites further afield.
A 40-hour workweek is common for aerospace engineers, but when deadlines and design standards add pressure, longer hours may be required.
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.
Typically aerospace engineers study science, mathematics, general engineering, computers, laboratory classes, humanities and social sciences in college.
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.
A masters degree is usually required for faculty positions and research and development programs. Many aerospace engineers go on to pursue graduate degrees in business administration or engineering to keep up with new technology or broaden their education.
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.
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.
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.
Many professional organizations offer certifications, which are beneficial to aerospace engineers seeking senior technical or managerial positions.
Employment and Job Outlook for Aerospace Engineers
Of the roughly 1.6 million engineers working, 71,600 of them are aerospace engineers. 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.
Engineering careers as a whole are projected to have average employment growth. The expected employment growth for aerospace engineers is nothing different with a 12 percent growth projected. The demand for aerospace engineers will likely be spurred by new technology and new designs for military and commercial aircraft and spacecraft that will need to be produced. The overall job outlook is favorable for aerospace engineers. Degrees for aerospace engineers has been declining recently, but now the number of degrees is starting to increase again. These new graduates will also be needed to fill positions left open by aerospace engineers retiring or leaving the occupation for other reasons.
Throughout their careers aerospace engineers must continue their educations. It’s incredibly important for them to stay up to date with the latest technology and to not let their skills become outdated. Those who don’t keep their skills current will find themselves at a disadvantage in the job market and for promotions as they won’t be able to offer the same expertise and greatest value to employers.
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.