Aerospace Engineers

Career, Salary and Education Information

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What Aerospace Engineers Do[About this section] [To Top]

Aerospace engineers design primarily aircraft, spacecraft, satellites, and missiles. In addition, they create and test prototypes to make sure that they function according to design.

Duties of Aerospace Engineers

Aerospace engineers typically do the following:

  • Direct and coordinate the design, manufacture, and testing of aircraft and aerospace products
  • Assess proposals for projects to determine if they are technically and financially feasible
  • Determine if proposed projects will result in safe operations that meet the defined goals
  • Evaluate designs to see that the products meet engineering principles, customer requirements, and environmental regulations
  • Develop acceptance criteria for design methods, quality standards, sustainment after delivery, and completion dates
  • Ensure that projects meet quality standards
  • Inspect malfunctioning or damaged products to identify sources of problems and possible solutions

Aerospace engineers may develop new technologies for use in aviation, defense systems, and spacecraft. They often specialize in areas such as aerodynamic fluid flow; structural design; guidance, navigation, and control; instrumentation and communication; robotics; and propulsion and combustion.

Aerospace engineers can specialize in designing different types of aerospace products, such as commercial and military airplanes and helicopters; remotely piloted aircraft and rotorcraft; spacecraft, including launch vehicles and satellites; and military missiles and rockets.

Aerospace engineers often become experts in one or more related fields: aerodynamics, thermodynamics, materials, celestial mechanics, flight mechanics, propulsion, acoustics, and guidance and control systems.

Aerospace engineers typically specialize in one of two types of engineering: aeronautical or astronautical.

Aeronautical engineers work with aircraft. They are involved primarily in designing aircraft and propulsion systems and in studying the aerodynamic performance of aircraft and construction materials. They work with the theory, technology, and practice of flight within the Earth's atmosphere.

Astronautical engineers work with the science and technology of spacecraft and how they perform inside and outside the Earth's atmosphere. This includes work on small satellites such as cubesats, and traditional large satellites.

Aeronautical and astronautical engineers face different environmental and operational issues in designing aircraft and spacecraft. However, the two fields overlap a great deal because they both depend on the basic principles of physics.

Work Environment for Aerospace Engineers[About this section] [To Top]

Aerospace engineers hold about 69,600 jobs. The largest employers of aerospace engineers are as follows:

Aerospace product and parts manufacturing 38%
Engineering services 15
Federal government, excluding postal service 14
Navigational, measuring, electromedical, and control instruments manufacturing 10
Research and development in the physical, engineering, and life sciences 9

Aerospace engineers are employed in industries in which workers design or build aircraft, missiles, systems for national defense, or spacecraft. They work primarily for firms that engage in manufacturing, analysis and design, research and development, and for the federal government.

Aerospace engineers now spend more of their time in an office environment than they have in the past, because modern aircraft design requires the use of sophisticated computer equipment and software design tools, modeling, and simulations for tests, evaluation, and training.

Aerospace engineers work with other professionals involved in designing and building aircraft, spacecraft, and their components. Therefore, they must be able to communicate well, divide work into manageable tasks, and work with others toward a common goal.

Aerospace Engineer Work Schedules

Aerospace engineers typically work full time. Engineers who direct projects must often work extra hours to monitor progress, to ensure that designs meet requirements, to determine how to measure aircraft performance, to see that production meets design standards, to participate in test flights and first flights, and to ensure that deadlines are met.

How to Become an Aerospace Engineer[About this section] [To Top]

Get the education you need: Find schools for Aerospace Engineers near you!

Aerospace engineers must have a bachelor's degree in aerospace engineering or another field of engineering or science related to aerospace systems. Aerospace engineers who work on projects that are related to national defense may need a security clearance. U.S. citizenship may be required for certain types and levels of clearances.

Education for Aerospace Engineers

Entry-level aerospace engineers usually need a bachelor's degree. High school students interested in studying aerospace engineering should take courses in chemistry, physics, advanced math, and computer programming and computer languages.

Bachelor's degree programs include classroom, laboratory, and field studies in subjects such as general engineering principles, propulsion, stability and control, structures, mechanics, and aerodynamics, which is the study of how air interacts with moving objects.

Some colleges and universities offer cooperative programs in partnership with regional businesses, which give students practical experience while they complete their education. Cooperative programs and internships enable students to gain valuable experience and to finance part of their education.

At some universities, a student can enroll in a 5-year program that leads to both a bachelor's degree and a master's degree upon completion. A graduate degree will allow an engineer to work as an instructor at a university or to do research and development. Programs in aerospace engineering are accredited by ABET.

Important Qualities for Aerospace Engineers

Analytical skills.Aerospace engineers must be able to identify design elements that may not meet requirements and then must formulate alternatives to improve the performance of those elements.

Business skills.Much of the work done by aerospace engineers involves meeting federal government standards. Meeting these standards often requires knowledge of standard business practices, as well as knowledge of commercial law. Additionally, project management or systems engineering skills can be useful.

Critical-thinking skills.Aerospace engineers must be able to produce designs that meet governmental standards, and to figure out why a particular design does not work. They must be able to ask the right question, then find an acceptable answer.

Math skills.Aerospace engineers use the principles of calculus, trigonometry, and other advanced topics in math for analysis, design, and troubleshooting in their work.

Problem-solving skills. Aerospace engineers use their education and experience to upgrade designs and troubleshoot problems when meeting new demands for aircraft, such as increased fuel efficiency or improved safety.

Writing skills.Aerospace engineers must be able both to write papers that explain their designs clearly and to create documentation for future reference.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations for Aerospace Engineers

Licensure for aerospace engineers is not as common as it is for other engineering occupations, nor it is required for entry-level positions. A Professional Engineering (PE) license, which allows for higher levels of leadership and independence, can be acquired later in one's career. Licensed engineers are called professional engineers (PEs). A PE can oversee the work of other engineers, sign off on projects, and provide services directly to the public. State licensure generally requires

  • A degree from an ABET-accredited engineering program
  • A passing score on the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam
  • Relevant work experience, typically at least 4 years
  • A passing score on the Professional Engineering (PE) exam.

The initial FE exam can be taken after earning a bachelor's degree. Engineers who pass this exam are commonly called engineers in training (EITs) or engineer interns (EIs). After meeting work experience requirements, EITs and EIs can take the second exam, called the Principles and Practice of Engineering.

Each state issues its own licenses. Most states recognize licensure from other states, as long as the licensing state's requirements meet or exceed their own licensure requirements. Several states require continuing education for engineers to keep their licenses.

Other Experience for Aerospace Engineers

During high school, students can attend engineering summer camps to see what these and other engineers do. Attending these camps can help students plan their coursework for the remainder of their time in high school.

Advancement for Aerospace Engineers

Eventually, aerospace engineers may advance to become technical specialists or to supervise a team of engineers and technicians. Some may even become engineering managers or move into executive positions, such as program managers.

Aerospace Engineer Salaries[About this section] [More salary/earnings info] [To Top]

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Entry Level Experienced

The median annual wage for aerospace engineers is $109,650. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $69,150, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $160,290.

The median annual wages for aerospace engineers in the top industries in which they work are as follows:

Federal government, excluding postal service $115,090
Navigational, measuring, electromedical, and control instruments manufacturing 112,640
Research and development in the physical, engineering, and life sciences 111,070
Aerospace product and parts manufacturing 108,920
Engineering services 106,320

Aerospace engineers typically work full time. Engineers who direct projects must often work extra hours to monitor progress, to ensure that designs meet requirements, to determine how to measure aircraft performance, to see that production meets design standards, and to ensure that deadlines are met.

Job Outlook for Aerospace Engineers[About this section] [To Top]

Employment of aerospace engineers is projected to grow 6 percent over the last ten years, about as fast as the average for all occupations. Aircraft are being redesigned to cause less noise pollution and have better fuel efficiency, which will help sustain demand for research and development. Also, new developments in small satellites, such as cubesats, which are used for many purposes such as communications or gathering data, are now coming into greater commercial viability. Aerospace engineers will be well positioned to benefit from their increased use. The growing commercial viability of unmanned aerial systems will also help drive growth of the occupation.

Most of the work of aerospace engineers involves national defense–related projects or the design of civilian aircraft. Research-and-development projects, such as those related to improving the safety, efficiency, and environmental soundness of aircraft, will help sustain demand for workers in this occupation.

Aerospace engineers who work on engines or propulsion will continue to be needed as the emphasis in design and production shifts to rebuilding existing aircraft so that they are less noisy and more fuel efficient.

In addition, as international governments refocus their space exploration efforts, new companies are emerging to provide access to space beyond the access afforded by standard governmental space agencies. The growing use of unmanned aerial vehicles will create more opportunities for aerospace engineers as authorities find domestic uses for them, such as finding missing persons lost in large tracts of forest or measuring snow pack and other water resources. Commercial interests will also find increasing uses for these unmanned vehicles, and workers in this occupation will find employment in designing and perfecting these vehicles for specified uses.

Job Prospects for Aerospace Engineers

Employment opportunities should be favorable for those trained in software, such as C++, or with education and experience in stress and structural engineering. Finally, the aging of workers in this occupation should help to create openings in it over the next decade.

Employment projections data for Aerospace Engineers, 2016-26
Occupational Title Employment, 2016 Projected Employment, 2026 Change, 2016-26
Percent Numeric
Aerospace engineers 69,600 73,800 6 4,200


*Some content used by permission of the Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor.

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