Aerospace engineering is the primary branch of engineering behind the design, construction and science of aircraft and spacecraft. It is broken into two major and overlapping branches:aeronautical engineering and astronautical engineering. The former deals with craft that stay within Earth’s atmosphere, and the latter deals with craft that operate outside of Earth’s atmosphere.
Aerospace engineering deals with the design, construction, and application of the science behind the forces and physical properties of aircraft, rockets, flying craft, and spacecraft. The field also covers their aerodynamic characteristics and behaviors, airfoil, control surfaces, lift, drag, and other properties. Aerospace engineering is not to be confused with the various other fields of engineering that go into designing these complex craft. For example, the design of aircraft avionics, while certainly part of the system as a whole, would rather be considered electrical engineering, or perhaps computer engineering. The landing gear system on an aircraft may fall into the field of mechanical engineering, and so forth. It is typically a large combination of many disciplines that makes up aeronautical engineering.
While aeronautical engineering was the original term, the broader “aerospace” has superseded it in usage, as flight technology advanced to include craft operating in outer space. Aerospace engineering, particularly the astronautics branch, is referred to colloquially as “rocket science”.
Aerospace engineers design, develop, and test aircraft, missiles, and space vehicles and oversee their production. They often specialize in one kind of vehicle, such as passenger planes, helicopters, or rockets. In some cases, they also work with earthbound vehicles, such as deep-diving vessels that are used to do research in the oceans and high-speed trains that float above their tracks. Aerospace engineering includes aeronautical engineering, which is limited to aircraft, and astronautical engineering, which is limited to spacecraft.
Most aerospace engineers work in the aircraft industry. This industry includes companies that make engines, communications systems, electronic devices, and the many other parts used in aircraft. Some aerospace engineers work for government agencies, such as the Department of Defense or the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). Many also work for companies that are under government contract to produce equipment needed for missiles and spacecraft. Others work for commercial airline companies, research and development organizations, and consulting firms, as well as for colleges and universities.
Aerospace engineers work closely with other specialists. Scientists such as physicists or metallurgists do the research needed to create new materials. They study how the materials will react in certain conditions, such as the intense heat or speeds encountered in space travel. Aerospace engineers then use the research to develop designs. They test the designs and make changes before beginning Aerospace engineering includes astronautics, which is the science concerned with travel beyond the earth’s atmosphere to the moon and other planets.(AP Images.)production of the equipment. They also supervise drafters and engineering technicians.
Aerospace engineering is a broad field. Its general area of concern overlaps with areas of other engineering fields, including mechanical, chemical, and electrical. There are also several areas of specialization within the field. Some aerospace engineers concentrate on structures and specialize in the design of new frameworks. They test the framework’s ability to withstand heat, pressure, and other forms of stress in wind tunnels. This helps to develop strong and durable aircraft and other vehicles.
Other aerospace engineers work chiefly on guidance and control systems. These systems include automatic navigation equipment for submarines and the automated Instrumentation Landing Systems (ILS) for aircraft, which allow aircraft to land at night and in bad weather. Other special fields in aerospace engineering include propulsion, fluid mechanics, thermodynamics, celestial mechanics, and acoustics. In addition, some aerospace engineers specialize in one phase of a process during which new equipment is developed, produced, and distributed. For example, they may concentrate on design, production, or sales. Others may specialize in a particular type of aerospace product, such as commercial aircraft, military fighter jets, helicopters, spacecraft, or missiles and rockets. They may become experts in aerodynamics, thermodynamics, celestial mechanics, propulsion, acoustics, or guidance and control systems.
Beginning aerospace engineers need at least a bachelor’s degree in engineering. Degree holders in mathematics or the natural sciences may qualify for certain jobs. It usually takes four or five years to earn a bachelor’s degree in engineering. A number of colleges offer undergraduate majors in aeronautical, astronautical, or aerospace engineering. Some jobs also require an advanced degree. Aerospace engineers must continue to study the latest developments in the field throughout their careers.
All states require licensing for engineers whose work affects life, health, or property, or for those who offer their services to the public. To become licensed as a professional engineer, you need a degree from an accredited school, four years of experience as an engineer, and a passing grade on a state examination. Some jobs in the aerospace industry require security clearance before you can start work.
Aerospace engineers work under a variety of conditions, from quiet laboratories and offices to noisy airfields and manufacturing plants. They usually work at least forty hours a week. They may be required to work long hours to complete a project on time. When a project is completed, engineers sometimes must move to a new location to find a job using their special skills.
Aerospace engineers generally work in teams and share information and ideas. They need to work well with others and be able to communicate their ideas. Engineers are problem solvers and should enjoy facing the challenge of a difficult problem. They must be patient and creative and able to pay close attention to the details of their work.
Aerospace engineers who have the needed experience and education can advance to positions as managers or administrators. Some become sales engineers or college teachers. A few start their own engineering firms.
Employment opportunities for aerospace engineers is expected to grow more slowly than average for all occupations from 2004 to 2014. Military aerospace projects likely will generate new jobs, but the number of new jobs in the design and production of commercial aircraft will decrease. However, the employment outlook for aerospace engineers through 2014 is good because new graduates will be needed to replace aerospace engineers who retire or leave the occupation for other reasons. Aerospace engineers who keep up with broad developments in their field are more likely to get jobs than those who know only one narrow area of technology.
Employment estimate and mean wage estimates for aerospace engineers is $99,000.