Aerospace Engineers

The people who design satellites, air and space vehicles, and missiles are called aerospace engineers. Aerospace engineers create new designs, and then test those designs to ensure they work properly.

Space exploration, aviation, and national defense systems all use sophisticated technologies which were developed by aerospace engineers. These engineers typically focus on a specialty like robotics; structural design, instrumentation, propulsion, communication, or navigation.

Some aerospace engineers design new products like missiles, rockets, military and commercial aircraft, remotely piloted planes and helicopters, and spacecraft.

An aerospace engineer's expertise may include more than one subject, like thermodynamics, propulsion, aerodynamics, celestial mechanics, acoustics, flight mechanics, and guidance systems.

The field of aerospace engineering can be divided into two categories: aeronautical engineers and astronautical engineers.

Aeronautical engineers focus on planes, helicopters, and other aircraft that fly within the atmosphere. They design new aircraft, and then test those designs to maximize efficiency and functionality. They study how aircraft work and how they can be improved (in terms of propulsion, construction materials, and more).

Astronautical engineers focus on spacecraft, such as rockets and satellites. They study the performance and design of these craft inside the earth's atmosphere, as well as beyond it.

The two types of engineers encounter different and distinct challenges in their fields. There is, however, a large degree of overlap between aeronautical and astronautical engineering, since they both strive to overcome challenges set by the laws of physics.

Work Environment

Over eighty thousand jobs are held by aerospace engineers. They work for companies and corporations that make airplanes, helicopters, missiles, defense systems, or spacecraft. They work in the areas of manufacture, research, analysis and design, and government.
Aerospace product and parts manufacturing 35%
Architectural, engineering, and related services 15
Scientific research and development services 14
Federal government 13
Navigational, measuring, electromedical, and  control instruments manufacturing 8
Designing state-of-the-art aircraft is a complicated task. Aerospace engineers accomplish this task with intensive training and education, and the help of complex computer software, design tools, and test simulations.

Aerospace engineers normally work forty hours a week, but project directors often need to work overtime. Project directors are responsible for the quality of design and the efficiency of the aircrafts' performance, as well as managing timetables, deadlines, and employees.

How to Become an Aerospace Engineer

A bachelor's degree is typically required to start out in aerospace engineering. Students who want to become an aerospace engineer should study physics, chemistry, and higher mathematics, such as trigonometry, algebra, and calculus.

Undergraduate students of aerospace engineering study in classrooms, laboratories, and the field for 4 years before receiving a bachelor's degree. They study subjects like propulsion, structures, stability and control, mechanics, and aerodynamics.

Some students get the opportunity to receive on-the-job training while they study, through cooperative programs offered by their school. These cooperative programs, which combine university learning with industry training, give students a valuable opportunity to pay for school while gaining practical experience in their field.

Certain universities also offer five-year programs in aerospace engineering. Students who complete these programs receive not only a bachelor's degree, but a master's degree as well. Engineers who hold a master's degree or higher are able to teach at universities and work on research and development projects. These university programs are evaluated by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET).


At first, aerospace engineers do not need to have a license. However, as they gain more experience and responsibility, a license becomes required. Licensed aerospace engineers are called professional engineers (PE). In order to become licensed, an engineer must have:

  • A degree from an engineering program accredited by ABET
  • A passing score on the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam
  • Relevant work experience
  • A passing score on the Professional Engineering (PE) exam

Several exams are required for licensure. The Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam comes first, and can be taken as soon as an engineer has a bachelor's degree. If the engineer passes this exam, he or she becomes known as an engineer intern (EI), or an engineer in training (EIT). The next exam is called the Principles and Practice of Engineering exam, and can only be taken after the EI has gained enough experience on the job.

Every state's licensing requirements are different. In some states, professional engineers must take further courses in their field, or else they lose their license. State licenses are typically valid in other states, depending on the particular requirements for licensure in that state.


The median salary of an aerospace engineer is more than $97,000. The median salary is the salary at which 50% of the workers earned more and 50% earned less. The lowest 10% of engineers earn less than $60,000, and the highest 10% earn more than $140,000.

The following table shows the industries which employ the most aerospace engineers, as well as the median salary of aerospace engineers in those industries:
Federal government 111,370
Navigationa, measuring, electromedical, and control instruments manufacturing 101,760
Architectural, engineering, and related services 95,220
Aerospace product and parts manufacturing 88,340
According to a study by Aviation Week, the average salary for an entry-level aerospace engineer is over $61,000, and the average salary of a senior aerospace engineer is over $145,000. Aerospace engineers in the middle of their career make an average salary of over $88,000.

Aerospace engineers normally work forty hours a week, but project directors often need to work overtime. Project directors are responsible for the quality of design and the efficiency of the aircrafts' performance, as well as managing timetables, deadlines, and employees.

Job Outlook

It's estimated that job prospects for aerospace engineers will grow by 5% in the next decade. This growth is slower than usual, when compared to the average occupation. Aerospace engineers working in the area of national defense need security clearances. These jobs tend to be more long-term than average. Also, improvements in aircraft require a lot of development and research, which creates jobs for aerospace engineers. This growth is expected to be slow, however, because the industries which employ a large percentage of aerospace engineers are expected to grow only gradually, or even decline.

The majority of an aerospace engineer's work is related to designing passenger aircraft for civilians, or working for the industries of national defense. As time goes on, there will be a continuing need for the improvement of aircraft, in terms of performance, safety, and environmental impact. This will cause the need for aerospace engineers to go up as well.

The focus of aircraft design is shifting towards more fuel efficiency and less noise. This requires the skills of aerospace engineers who specialize in engine technologies.

Also, as legislative powers change their approach to space exploration and regulation, new organizations are being created which will allow humans to access space in new ways. These organizations are improving our ability to travel in both low-orbit and outer-orbit environments, as well as beyond.

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