What Is Aerospace Engineering?

By Indeed Editorial Team

November 15, 2021

Engineering is a diverse career field that constantly evolves as new technology and resources become available. A subset of the larger field, aerospace engineering, provides numerous career opportunities for both analytical and critical thinkers with aptitudes for science and math. In this article, we discuss what aerospace engineering is and look at examples of aerospace engineering jobs to help you determine if a career in the industry is the right path for you.

Related: How To Become an Aerospace Engineer

A jet being serviced in a hangar

What is aerospace engineering?

The aerospace engineering industry focuses on the design, testing and manufacturing of aircraft, spacecraft, satellites and missiles. Aerospace engineers are responsible for creating and developing these advanced technologies.

These engineers usually specialize in a particular product of the aerospace industry, such as missiles, rockets, military fighter jets, spacecraft, helicopters or commercial aircraft. Aerospace engineers also choose a specialty within the field, including instrumentation, communication, navigation and control, design, guidance or production methods. For example, one aerospace engineer may design a military helicopter, while another may develop solutions to fix a satellite in space.

A career in aerospace engineering allows professional engineers to design, analyze, test and troubleshoot various technologies. Additionally, aerospace engineers create quality control standards, optimize design processes, identify problems with the manufacturing process or with the product itself and provide solutions to correct any uncovered problems.

Aerospace engineers tend to be extremely familiar with project engineering, systems engineering and even business roles, so they are comfortable working alongside other professionals in a range of fields. As the need for technology grows, the aerospace industry evolves and requires the creativity and innovation of a new generation of aerospace engineers.

Related: Top Careers in Aerospace Engineering

Types of aerospace engineers

There are two types of aerospace engineers:

Aeronautical engineers

Aeronautical engineers study the aerodynamic performance of aircrafts, including its materials, propulsion system and design. These professionals design, create, produce and perform maintenance on civilian and military aircraft, aeronautical systems and components.

The aeronautical engineer is responsible for using cost-effective methods to develop ways of improving fuel efficiency and flight safety. Additionally, aeronautical engineers focus on lowering the environmental impact of air travel by creating aircraft that are more environmentally friendly. For example, an aeronautical engineer may be employed by a commercial airline company to research ways that an aircraft can use less fuel without sacrificing its speed or aerodynamics.

Astronautical engineers

Astronautical engineers focus on developing and designing spacecraft, as well as enhancing technology and performance. These engineers use spacecraft to study thermodynamics, aerodynamics, celestial mechanics, propulsion, guidance systems and flight mechanics.

Astronautical engineers work with a wide range of spacecraft including rockets, satellites, missiles, space launchers, space vehicles, navigation systems and probes. For example, an astronautical engineer may be employed by a government agency to design a space vehicle that will perform research on Mars.

Related: Aeronautics vs. Aerospace Engineering: Definitions and Differences

Educational requirements

The educational requirements for entry-level aerospace engineers include obtaining a bachelor's degree in aerospace engineering or any other engineering discipline. A master's degree is recommended for aerospace research jobs and upper-level aerospace engineering positions.

Upper-level positions typically require candidates to possess a professional engineer license. Aerospace engineers seeking managerial roles should have extensive knowledge of aerospace engineering concepts as well as proven work experience in the field.

Earning a degree in aerospace engineering offers individuals the chance to be at the forefront of science and engineering in today's technologically advanced marketplace. The knowledge, international project experience and communication skills learned by obtaining a degree in aerospace engineering enable these engineers to pursue a broad range of exciting careers.

Related: What Is Aeronautical Engineering? Education and Career Path

Where do aerospace engineers work?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), most aerospace engineers work in manufacturing, analysis and design, research and development, and the federal government. Aerospace engineers may be employed by a variety of businesses and agencies, including:

  • Aerospace companies

  • Airlines

  • Research and development organizations

  • Contract agencies

  • Consulting firms

  • The military

  • Government agencies

  • Colleges and universities

An aerospace engineer working in an office environment will use computers and software programs to design aircraft or parts for aircraft. After perfecting the design, the aerospace engineer can use specialized software to test the product through various simulations and make any necessary changes before manufacturing begins.

Examples of jobs for aerospace engineers

According to the BLS, the median annual salary for aerospace engineers was $118,610 in 2020. Upper-level managerial positions reported a higher pay level.

The following list provides some examples of jobs for aerospace engineers:

1. Quality engineer

National average base salary: $77,152 per yearhour

Primary duties: Quality engineers assist companies with helping to ensure that their products and processes meet quality standards. Typical duties may include identifying areas of improvement, developing and implementing enhancement measures and assessing and testing quality control systems.

Usually, a quality engineer's job entails working alongside managers and supervisors to design quality standards and inspect products, equipment and processes. In the aerospace field, a quality engineer may inspect an aircraft manufacturer's processes to ensure employees are adhering to the company's manufacturing procedures and safety protocols.

Quality engineers should have a broad and deep understanding of the quality standards of their industry and should excel at troubleshooting and problem-solving.

2. Design engineer

National average base salary: $79,699 per year

Primary duties: Design engineers design, research and test a variety of products and systems. These professionals are also responsible for overseeing the manufacturing process. In the aerospace industry, a design engineer may design a variety of systems for aircraft or spacecraft. Design engineers must possess extensive knowledge of modern design trends and have a background in engineering. Required skills include excellent communication, creative thinking and problem-solving skills.

3. Product engineer

National average base salary: $82,550 per year

Primary duties: A specialty of mechanical engineering, product engineering involves creating and designing products and developing a manufacturing process for those products. The product engineer transitions a company's products from the design phase to the manufacturing phase, leading to the product being ready for sale.

A product engineer in the aerospace field may be responsible for developing a streamlined manufacturing process for aircraft engine components. Typically, product engineers work at a manufacturing plant or in a corporate office. Skills required include a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering and an aptitude for design and innovation.

4. Mechanical engineer

National average base salary: $83,373 per year

Primary duties: Mechanical engineers are responsible for researching, designing, developing, building and testing mechanical equipment, such as tools, engines and machines. In the aerospace industry, these professionals may work on aircraft, spacecraft, missiles or weapons systems. Skills required for these types of positions include a background in engineering, computer skills and critical thinking skills.

5. Structural engineer

National average base salary: $84,890 per year

Primary duties: Structural engineers design, plan and oversee the construction of various structures. These professionals are responsible for selecting the appropriate building materials, inspecting the construction process and ensuring that the building is structurally sound.

These engineers are tasked with creating stable and reliable structures that support large aircraft in federal or private settings. Structural engineers must have strong math and computer skills, understand construction processes and be aware of any legal regulations in the area. Also, these individuals must possess analytical skills, creative thinking skills and problem-solving skills.

6. System engineer

National average base salary: $95,834 per year

Primary duties: The system engineer develops the outline for aerospace projects from the design phase through the manufacturing and production phase. These professionals focus on the details of the overall project, including cost, schedules and any problems that arise. System engineers work alongside project managers and other engineers to create useful and successful products. Skills required include a background in engineering, excellent communication skills, critical thinking skills and problem-solving skills.

7. Planning engineer

National average base salary: $96,302 per year

Primary duties: A planning engineer interprets engineering drawings and analyzes and plans the engineering and manufacturing processes for aerospace projects. In most cases, the planning engineer is on-site throughout the duration of the engineering project in order to oversee the process and offer problem-solving solutions.

Typically, planning engineers work with managers, surveyors and other engineers to keep the project on schedule and to make sure that all materials are received, and procedures are followed. These professionals possess strong attention to detail, are highly self-motivated and organized and exhibit strong communication skills.

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