What You'll Do
By Jennifer Wegerer
Aerospace engineering produces some of the most extraordinary machines in the world, from airplanes that weigh over half a million pounds to spacecraft that travel over 17,000 miles an hour. And aerospace engineers are the people responsible for designing, developing and testing aircraft, spacecraft, and missiles and supervising the manufacturing of these products.
Within aerospace engineering, aeronautical engineers work specifically with aircraft; astronautical engineers work specifically with spacecraft. Depending on their specialization, aerospace engineers may become experts in aerodynamics, thermodynamics, propulsion, acoustics and other scientific aspects integral to their field.
Developing new technologies for use in aviation, defense and space exploration, aerospace engineers can find extensive job opportunities with the federal government, specifically with the U.S. Departments of Defense and Transportation, as well as NASA. In the private sector, aerospace engineers work for defense contractors, commercial aircraft companies, and in the arena of scientific research and development, consulting, and management.
The Future of Aerospace Engineering
National security, global communication, the economy—aerospace engineering plays a pivotal role in these areas and much more. With such concerns and technological advancements taking a high profile in our daily lives, aerospace engineers face huge challenges and opportunities, and those who choose this profession will gain importance as they work toward the stabilization and well-being of the world.
Aerospace engineers will be critical for these jobs:
- Design and manufacture of aircrafts, spacecrafts and missiles. Space research companies, as well as government funded institutions working on different military projects, will need engineers to design missiles that support defense strategies and agendas.
- Additionally, aerospace engineers will participate in space enterprises as agencies and companies research and plan for travel to outer space and the possible exploration and colonization of other planets and atmospheres.
The American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA), a professional society and forum for aerospace innovation, technical excellence and global leadership, describes the crucial responsibilities aerospace engineering holds in developing public policies for aeronautics and astronautics. From federal aviation regulations to national security interests, the AIAA frequently testifies before Congress on major events and initiatives, contributing technical expertise and specialized knowledge to policy decisions at the highest levels of government.
Schools & Degree Programs
Aerospace engineers belong to an ever-advancing field and hold high credentials earned through intense study and practice. A number of colleges and universities in the U.S. offer bachelor's, master's and PhD programs in aerospace engineering, or specifically in aeronautical or astronautical engineering. Some colleges deliver aerospace engineering training through their mechanical engineering departments.
Along with extensive course work in specialized aerospace engineering topics, typical aerospace engineering degree programs include course work in general and mechanical engineering, mathematics, physical and life sciences, engineering design and computer technology. Undergraduate students can also anticipate fulfilling general education requirements in social sciences or humanities.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics' 2018-19 Occupational Outlook Handbook, the median national annual salary for aerospace engineers is $109,650. Actual salaries may vary greatly based on specialization within the field, location, years of experience and a variety of other factors. National long-term projections of employment growth may not reflect local and/or short-term economic or job conditions, and do not guarantee actual job growth.