Engineering is a vast field with many disciplines under one large umbrella. Before diving into your college applications, it can be a good idea to know which type of engineering you’re interested in, in order to have a head start. If you love the idea of applying your knowledge to the design and construction of machines that fly, aerospace engineering could be a good choice for you to consider.
What is aerospace engineering?
Aerospace engineering is the field of study revolving around the design of aircraft, satellites, spacecraft, and missiles. Generally speaking, all aerospace engineers have a bachelor’s degree in aerospace engineering itself, or in another area of science related to aerospace systems.
Here’s some more information about what skills you need to be an aerospace engineer and what this career path involves.
What do aerospace engineers do?
Aerospace engineers do fascinating work. As mentioned above, these engineers work at designing, building, and maintaining spacecraft, aircraft, and missiles. Some aerospace engineers also work on designing systems used in national defense.
You can work in the following areas related to aerospace engineering:
- Research and development
- Federal government positions
Aerospace engineers sometimes work with existing technology, and they also develop new ones. These new technologies may be used to further explore space, construct new airplanes, or develop new approaches to national defense systems.
Some of the specialties involved in aerospace engineering include developing and working on:
- Missiles and rockets
- Commercial aircraft
- Military fighter jets
Aerospace engineers may also work at researching and improving the systems involved in:
- Navigation and control
- Structural design
- Production methods
- Regulatory and safety standards
Many aerospace engineers need to conduct tests and develop prototypes for their designs in order to help assess what is a good design and what needs more attention and work. These engineers rely on experiments and research in order to forward their ideas and to help them come to fruition.
As an aerospace engineer you can also work as a programmer. For example, the aerospace engineers at NASA produce software and hardware needed to test and run a wide variety of flight systems used in spacecraft flight systems on Earth and in outer space.
Some of the systems you might work on in this career include:
- Propulsion systems
- Navigation systems
- Instrumentation systems
- Communication systems
An aerospace engineer also analyzes and works on developing thermodynamic and aerodynamic materials needed for use in the aviation industry.
What skills does an aerospace engineer need?
In order to study aerospace engineering and pursue a career in this field, it’s important to have skills that include:
- Analytical thinking
- Knowledge of computer systems
- Familiarity with hardware and software
- Attention to detail
While positions in the aerospace field can vary, in many cases you’ll need to be comfortable working in a team on large-scale projects as an aerospace engineer. Often, your duties are shared by many engineers. This means being able to communicate your thoughts clearly through writing and speaking will be a solid asset in this path.
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How to Become an Aerospace Engineer
In order to become an aerospace engineer, you need to obtain your bachelor’s degree in aerospace engineering or in another related field. This could be computer programming or a college major like automotive engineering.
Generally speaking, you will need to have taken high school courses in the following subjects to be an aerospace engineer:
- Advanced functions
You can keep going with your studies and obtain a master’s degree in aerospace engineering for more advanced knowledge.
Many entry-level positions in this field don’t require you to have a license but more advanced ones often do. You’ll need a Professional Engineer license for these jobs. The requirements for obtaining this in the US vary from state to state. Many states ask that you have an engineering degree from an accredited institution, as well as work experience to be licensed. You will also need to pass the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) and the Professional Engineering exams in order to become a licensed aerospace engineer.
What can you do with an aerospace engineering degree?
With an aerospace engineering degree, you can work in a variety of jobs as part of a rewarding career. You’ll be working on designing and building all types of airborne objects from aircraft, to spacecraft, military missiles, systems, and more. Once you gain considerable experience in the field, you might go on to oversee and manage larger projects and learn to direct other engineers in their work. Most aerospace engineering work involves collaborating with others in large teams towards a common goal that focuses on the design and building process for machines that fly.
Professional Aerospace Engineering Societies and Organizations
There are various professional bodies associated with aerospace engineering in the US and abroad. Once you become an aerospace engineer, you can apply to be part of these societies and organizations in order to network with other professionals in the same field, and to learn from each other and share.
In the U.S. these include:
This organization is global and comprises designers and engineers working in the transportation industry, including aerospace. This organization provides members with access to learning materials, technologies, updates, and job opportunities.
This is an honors society developed for students studying aerospace engineering with great academic standing. It’s reserved for those attending an ABET-accredited program and also for those people who have made a significant contribution to the aerospace engineering field.
This institute represents the biggest society worldwide for aerospace engineering. As the leading aerospace publisher globally, the AIAA provides an area for professionals to exchange ideas and attend events related to the aerospace industry.
Real-life Examples of Aerospace Engineers
Orville and Wilbur Wright, mentioned above, were some of the original aerospace engineers in history. Since their work, many have followed the same path of passion.
Notable aerospace engineers in history include:
Wernher von Braun was a German-American who is often considered to be the father of rocket technology and space science.
Neil Armstrong, along with Buzz Aldrin, was one of 12 people who were the first humans to walk on the moon in 1969.
Robert Hutchings Goddard was a talented physicist and is described by NASA as the father of modern rocket propulsion.
George Cayley is considered by many to be the father of aeronautics.
Kalpana Chawla was the first woman born in India to enter space. Unfortunately, she died with seven other astronauts when the space shuttle Columbia broke when re-entering Earth’s atmosphere in 2003.
These are just a few of the important people who have contributed to the advancement of aerospace engineering throughout history.
What’s the salary of an aerospace engineer?
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics, the median pay for an aerospace engineer in 2021 in the US was $122,270 per year. This breaks down to about $58.78 per hour.
Additional sources show the lowest 10% of people employed in this industry earn about $79,000 per year and the highest 10% earn around $157,000 annually.
A general overview of the job landscape in this field in the U.S. in 2020 shows there were about 61,400 jobs available and the job market is expected to grow at an rate of 8%, which means this area is growing at an average pace compared with other industries in the US.
Get a head start on aerospace engineering with Sphero
Aerospace engineering presents exciting opportunities in the job market. With a wide variety of applications and needed skills, this career area will no doubt bring new developments in the coming decades.
Curious to learn and develop your knowledge? Sphero provides content, products, activities, and lessons you can use to feed your curiosity and begin to build the skills you may use as an aerospace engineer.
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