Aerospace engineering - Just the right career for you?

Aerospace Engineers

Career spotlight: Aerospace engineer

Aerospace engineers apply their creativity and logic skills to creating and testing civil and military aircrafts, space crafts, satellites, missiles, and other weapons systems. They must consider numerous factors in their designs, including fuel efficiency, flight safety, speed and weight, environmental impact, and budget. Many aerospace engineers specialize in a particular aerospace field, such as aerodynamics, avionics, systems integration, propulsion, and materials and structures.

This aerospace engineer job description should help you determine whether this position is right for you.

What Can You Expect From an Aerospace Engineer Job?

Responsibilities

As an aerospace engineer, you are responsible for a range of tasks related to the design, development, and testing of new and existing aircraft and aerospace products. While activities vary depending on an aerospace engineer's area of expertise, some common duties include:

  • Applying science and technology principles to create new components and support equipment for use in aerospace projects
  • Evaluating aerospace project proposals to determine whether they are logically and financially practical
  • Researching and developing design specifications
  • Using computer-aided design (CAD) software to create project plans
  • Establishing design procedures, quality standards, sustainment after delivery processes, and completion dates
  • Overseeing the assembly of airframes and installation of instruments, engines, and other components
  • Problem-solving to find solutions for issues arising during aerospace project design, development, and testing phases
  • Inspecting completed projects to ensure they adhere to quality standards
  • Inspecting damaged and malfunctioning projects to identify why they're failing and how to fix them
  • Participating in flight-test programs to measure factors including take-off distances, maneuverability, rate of climb, stall speeds, and landing capacities
  • Devising strategies to improve the performance or safety credentials of aircraft and their components and systems
  • Inspecting aircraft regularly, performing maintenance tasks and repairing detected faults
  • Investigating aircraft accidents to determine why they occurred

Work Environment

Aerospace engineers usually spend most of their time working in offices and aeronautical laboratories using computer equipment and software design tools. They may also work in factory production hangars overseeing the manufacturing. Some field work may be required for aerospace engineers participating in flight-test programs and investigating aircraft accidents. In some cases, aerospace engineers may travel to company sites outside the United States.

Aerospace engineers typically work for the federal government or private organizations that design and build aerospace goods and components. They usually have their own workspaces located close to other aerospace engineers and personnel responsible for designing and building aircraft, space vehicles, weapons, and their components.
While the working environment of an aerospace engineer is not usually stressful, they may face pressure when meeting deadlines.

Schedule

Most aerospace engineers work from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays. Experienced aerospace engineers responsible for supervising projects may need to work extra hours to see that these projects meet design standards and designated deadlines.

Aerospace engineers don't usually work late nights or on weekends and public holidays. However, some aerospace engineers may be placed "on call," and their services called upon if an aircraft or space craft requires urgent repairs or an accident needs investigating.

The hours an aerospace engineer works are usually dictated by their employer. Opportunities for self-employment and flexible schedules are rare in this line of work.

What Qualifications Are Required to Be an Aerospace Engineer?

Education

Aerospace engineers require at least a bachelor's degree. Some degree fields commonly associated with qualified candidates include:

  • Aerospace engineering
  • Computer science
  • Software engineering
  • Mechanical engineering
  • Physics or applied physics

These courses of study should be recognized by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology.

Studying chemistry, physics, and advanced mathematics during high school will help aspiring aerospace engineers prepare themselves for relevant university study.

After four years working as an aerospace engineer, motivated individuals may decide to get a Professional Engineering license. To gain licensure, candidates must also obtain passing grades on the Fundamentals of Engineering and Professional Engineering exams. Once licensed, an aerospace engineer can manage other engineers and sign off on projects.

A master's degree in aerospace engineering or a related field will give aerospace engineers an edge when applying for jobs. Some roles, including teaching aerospace engineering at university level and research and development positions, require a graduate degree. A master's degree can also be useful in securing employment as an aerospace engineer if your bachelor's degree is in a different subject.

Experience

While an aerospace engineer's education is important, most of these professionals feel they learn more through experience on the job. Internship programs are a component of many aerospace engineering degrees. These programs can help aspiring aerospace engineers gain experience before entering the workforce. Students who do not have access to these programs are advised to contact aerospace companies to gain vacation work before graduating.

PayScale also shows just 13 percent of aerospace engineers have less than a year's experience in this profession. Thirty-six percent have between one and four years of experience, and a quarter have between five and nine years of experience. Twenty-six percent of aerospace engineers have 10 or more years of experience working in this field.

These numbers suggest that experience is valued in the aerospace engineering profession. Once an aerospace engineer is established in the field, there are ample opportunities to continue working in related roles for many years to come.

Skills

Aerospace engineers call on a variety of hard and soft skills to excel in their roles. These are just some of the talents and qualities that employers look for when hiring new aerospace engineers:

  • Technical knowledge – Aerospace engineers need to know about aerospace systems, manufacturing procedures, federal government standards, and more.
  • Creativity – Innovation is crucial to the aerospace industry and the work of aerospace engineers, particularly during the design phase.
  • Analytical skills – These skills help aerospace engineers identify flawed or mediocre design elements and formulate alternative solutions.
  • Mathematics – Calculus, trigonometry, and other advanced mathematics principles help aerospace engineers assess, develop, and troubleshoot projects.
  • Critical thinking – These skills help aerospace engineers translate a brief or set of requirements into a tangible aerospace solution and determine why failed projects do not work.
  • Problem-solving skills – When aerospace engineers must reduce fuel consumption, improve safety credentials, and reduce production costs, these skills help them meet the demands.
  • Logical – Issues that arise in the aerospace field must be resolved using logic, rather than emotion.
  • Attention to detail – This helps aerospace engineers spot design flaws and complete work to the highest standard.
  • Written and oral communication skills – Aerospace engineers draw on these skills when collaborating with others and compiling project reports and documentation.
  • Organization and time management – Aerospace engineers rely on these skills to work productively and meet deadlines.
  • Leadership – Some aerospace engineers work in a supervisory role, and rely on leadership skills to motivate and effectively manage their teams.
  • Flexibility – Aerospace engineers often need to cope with new demands and new problems as they present themselves.
  • Passion – A love of aircraft, aviation, and flight technology will help aerospace engineers excel.
  • Good character – This is necessary to receive the security clearance required to work on national defense projects.

Salary Expectations

How much do aerospace engineers make? According to PayScale, entry-level aerospace engineers make an average of $71,000 a year, well above the average for entry-level jobs around the nation. In fact, aerospace product and parts manufacturing is one of the highest-paying industries with the greatest post-recession income growth. Salaries rise sharply as aerospace engineers gain more experience. While the average national salary stands at around $78,500, the typical salary for aerospace engineers with 20 or more years of experience is $128,000.

Some locations in the United States also offer aerospace engineers salaries well above the national average. In El Segundo, California, aerospace engineers typically earn $90,744 per year; in Seattle, Washington, aerospace engineers usually make $86,999 per year; and in Los Angeles, California, aerospace engineers usually make $84,702 per year.

Job Outlook for Aerospace Engineers

Projected Growth

The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that aerospace engineer positions will fall by 2 percent from 2014 to 2024, amounting to a loss of 1,600 aerospace engineers within the nation during this period. The Bureau suggests that there will be sustained demand in the field of aerospace research and development though, as aerospace firms look to reduce noise pollution and make their crafts more fuel efficient.

Career Trajectory

Entry-level aerospace engineers may progress to supervisory roles after earning their Professional Engineering license. While these roles are still technically aerospace engineering positions, these professionals may also be known as aviation and aerospace project engineers. As aerospace engineering is a challenging career, many people are happy to continue this work until they retire.

However, aerospace engineers eying career advancement may move into a design engineering manager role. This can result in a significant pay increase, with average salaries sitting at around $102,000 per year, according to PayScale.

Although less common, it's not too unusual for aerospace engineers to transition to becoming aeronautical engineers as many skills are easily transferrable.

Working as an aerospace engineer is rewarding for anyone passionate about aerospace, national defense, and working with cutting-edge technology. Start your search for your ideal aerospace engineer role today.