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Aerospace Engineer Career Guide

What is an aerospace engineer?

Aerospace engineers are the brainiacs who design things like planes and spaceships. They use cool science like aerodynamics (how air flows around stuff) and propulsion (how to make things move through air or space) to build these vehicles. They’re super important in improving air travel and helping us explore space.

Duties and responsibilities

Imagine building a plane or a spaceship—that’s what these engineers do every day! They design everything from the big picture to tiny details and ensure everything works safely. They’re like the masterminds who turn cool ideas into real, flying machines.

Work environment

These engineers can be found in offices, labs, or factories. They work on projects that matter, like defending our country or sending stuff to space. They’re team players, working with other smart people to tackle big challenges. Sometimes, they even get to travel around the world for their job.

Typical work hours

Most aerospace engineers work full-time, usually around 40 hours a week. But when they’re racing against a deadline or working on something really groundbreaking, they might work extra hours. They must be ready to shift their schedule, especially when working on big space projects. Plus, some travel might be part of the job, which can be an incredible perk!

How to become an aerospace engineer

Want to design the next cool spaceship or jet? Here’s how you can start your journey to becoming an aerospace engineer:

    Step 1: Get your high school diploma

    Focus on math, physics, and chemistry in high school. These subjects are the basic building blocks for understanding how things fly.

    Step 2: Earn a bachelor’s degree

    Next, you’ll need a bachelor’s degree in aerospace engineering. This is where you learn all the interesting stuff, like how planes stay in the air, how to design them, and what makes them zoom through the sky.

    Step 3: Get hands-on experience

    While studying, try to get an internship or join a co-op program. This is your chance to work with actual aerospace companies and see how the real world of engineering works.

    Step 4: Consider advanced degrees (optional)

    A master’s degree or Ph.D. can help you specialize in things like spacecraft design or fluid mechanics. It’s extra study, but it could lead you to some awesome jobs in research or teaching.

    Step 5: Get licensed

    Becoming a licensed professional engineer (PE) is a big plus. It involves passing exams and getting some work experience. Think of it like a badge of honor showing you know your stuff.

    Step 6: Gain professional experience

    Once you’re out of school, start working and learning from experienced engineers. You’ll begin with simpler tasks and gradually work your way up to bigger, more challenging projects.

    Step 7: Keep learning

    The world of aerospace is always changing. Stay sharp by attending workshops, reading up on the latest industry news, or joining groups like the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics.

    How much do aerospace engineers make?

    Wondering what your bank account might look like as an aerospace engineer? Well, it depends on a bunch of things like your experience, where you work, your education, and the size of the company you work for.

    If you’re working on super complex projects, designing fancy aircraft or spacecraft systems, you might earn more. Also, if you’re in a job where you need security clearance (like top-secret stuff), that can bump up your salary, too.

    Highest paying industries

    • Management of Companies and Enterprises – $129,380
    • Scientific Research and Development Services – $124,430
    • Architectural and Engineering – $116,480
    • Federal Executive Branch – $115,540
    • Navigational, Measuring, Electromedical, and Control Instruments Manufacturing – $113,000

    Highest paying states

    • Virginia – $125,980
    • California – $124,470
    • Texas – $116,480
    • Colorado – $115,300
    • Washington – $113,200

    Browse aerospace engineer salary data by market

    Types of aerospace engineers

    Aircraft design engineer

    These are the people who design airplanes, helicopters, and even drones. They verify that these aircraft are safe and meet all the rules and regulations.

    Thermal design engineer

    Got a mission to space? These engineers make sure everything stays cool (or warm) in the crazy temperatures up there.

    Propulsion engineer

    These are the rocket scientists! They figure out how to make spacecraft zoom through space, focusing on designing engines that work even in a vacuum.

    Aerodynamics engineer

    They’re all about airflow. These engineers study how air moves over planes and spacecraft to ensure they fly smoothly and safely.

    Aerospace systems engineer

    Think of them as the all-rounders. They combine electrical, mechanical, and software engineering to develop new aerospace systems.

    Quality assurance engineer

    These engineers are like quality detectives. They spot problems before an aircraft is even built and keep an eye on the manufacturing process to verify that everything is top-notch.

    Structural analysis engineer

    They’re the strength testers, making sure that all parts of aircraft and spacecraft can handle the stresses of flying and space conditions.

    Top skills for aerospace engineers

    • Strong mathematical proficiency: Aerospace engineers need to be math whizzes. They use advanced math, such as calculus and statistics, to design, test, and fix aircraft and spacecraft.
    • Mastery of engineering principles: These engineers must know the nuts and bolts of engineering. They need to get mechanical, electrical, and industrial engineering principles and understand thermodynamics, how structures work, how fluids move, and what materials to use.
    • Excellent analytical skills: Aerospace engineers have to be great problem solvers. They must think critically and be practical to overcome engineering challenges, from the drawing board to the final product.
    • Proficiency in programming: Being good with computer software is a must. Aerospace engineers often use computer-aided design (CAD) programs. They should also know programming languages like C++, Python, and MATLAB to work on things like fluid dynamics and analyzing material stress.
    • Deep understanding of materials science: They need to know all about materials. What materials to use, how they react under different conditions, and how to make aircraft and spacecraft safe and efficient all come down to understanding materials science.

    Aerospace engineer career path options

    Starting as an aerospace engineer is just the beginning. Here’s how your career can take off:

    Entry-level positions

    Fresh out of school, you’ll likely start in an entry-level role, working under experienced engineers. It’s all about gaining hands-on experience and learning the ropes.

    Lead or principal engineer

    With a few years under your belt, you can step up to roles like lead or principal engineer. Here, you’ll manage bigger projects and maybe even a team of engineers.

    Managerial roles

    Want to call the shots? As you gain more experience and training, you can become an engineering manager or even a director of engineering. In these roles, you’re in charge of setting technical directions and making big plans for your organization.

    The skills you learn in aerospace engineering can take you to other exciting areas like mechanical engineering, product development, project engineering, or even the defense industry.

    A career in research

    Some engineers choose to focus on pushing the boundaries of what we know about flying and space. With advanced degrees, they might work in research facilities or universities, dreaming up the future of aviation and aerospace tech.

    • Emphasis on autonomous systems and AI: We’re in an era where tech like artificial intelligence and machine learning are big deals. For aerospace engineers, this means a shift toward creating smart, self-operating systems and drones. These technologies are changing how things are done in aerospace engineering.
    • Sustainability in aircraft design: There’s a growing focus on making aircraft eco-friendlier. Aerospace engineers are at the forefront of designing technologies that are not just cool but also kinder to our planet.
    • Booming space exploration: Space isn’t just for astronauts anymore. With governments and private companies eyeing the stars, these engineers are facing new challenges. They’re working on making space travel, like tourism and exploration, safer and more affordable.
    • Rising demand for satellite technologies: Satellites are more important than ever for things like communication and weather forecasting. This demand is creating a lot of growth in satellite technology development, which is great news for aerospace engineers.

    Employment projections

    According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the field of aerospace engineering is expected to grow by 8% through 2032. The push for new, innovative technologies and space exploration are opening up exciting opportunities in the industry.

    Aerospace engineer career tips

    Stay informed about the industry

    Keep up with what’s happening in aerospace by following the latest research, tech advancements, and trends. Knowing the rules and laws for aviation safety, space exploration, and making planes is crucial. Stay sharp by reading industry publications, attending webinars, and joining discussions.

    Embrace interdisciplinary learning

    Aerospace engineering touches lots of areas. Dive into material science, thermodynamics, control systems, and hydrodynamics. Being a pro with design and simulation software is also crucial. Boost your skills by:

    • Joining industrial training programs
    • Taking online courses
    • Attending workshops or boot camps

    Get certified

    Stand out in the job market with certifications like Certified Systems Engineering Professional (CSEP) or Project Management Professional (PMP). These can really make your resume shine.

    Network, network, network

    Connections are everything. You can meet new people and learn from experts by joining groups like the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) or the Society of Flight Test Engineers (SFTE).

    Be a champion for sustainability

    Play your part in protecting our planet. Focus on making aerospace systems that are energy-efficient and sustainable. Think about ways to save fuel, reduce noise, and cut down on waste in aircraft manufacturing. In space projects, consider eco-friendly propulsion and responsible satellite decommissioning.

    Where the aerospace engineer jobs are

    Top employers

    • NASA
    • Lockheed Martin
    • Boeing
    • Raytheon Technologies
    • Northrop Grumman

    Top states

    • California
    • Florida
    • Texas
    • Alabama
    • Colorado

    Top job sites

    • zengig
    • Indeed
    • LinkedIn
    • EngineerJobs.com
    • Monster


    What does a typical day look like for an aerospace engineer?

    In general, the routine includes designing aircraft, spacecraft, satellites, and missiles. Also, they often create and test prototypes to ensure they function according to design. The job involves many indoor tasks, including lots of computer time and calculations, but may also include field tests and meetings with clients or other engineers.

    What are some common challenges aerospace engineers often face?

    Some common challenges include managing complex design and implementation projects, accommodating environmental and physical constraints, ensuring compliance with industry standards and government regulations, and keeping up with advancements in technology. This job may also involve unpredicted challenges, such as hardware failures during testing or budget constraints, adding to the complexity of project execution.

    What skills are important for an aerospace engineer to possess?

    Important skills include strong technical abilities to understand and apply complex mathematical and physical concepts. Attention to detail, critical thinking, and problem-solving abilities are also crucial. Other transferable skills might include project management capabilities, communication skills for working within a team and with clients, and a level of creativity for innovative designing and troubleshooting.

    What kind of software tools do aerospace engineers use?

    Aerospace engineers often use CAD software for creating and modifying their designs. They also employ simulation software to model and test various aspects of their designs under different conditions. They often use MATLAB or a similar platform for calculations and mathematical modeling. Another frequently used tool is finite element analysis software for structural analysis.

    What type of education is required to be an aerospace engineer?

    A career in aerospace engineering typically requires a bachelor’s degree in aerospace engineering or a relevant field. Having a strong grounding in physics, mathematics, and computer science is fundamental. Sometimes, a postgraduate degree might be necessary, particularly for research roles. Other professionals might opt for further education to specialize in a particular area, such as propulsion systems or navigational technology.

    What’s the difference between an aerospace engineer and a mechanical engineer?

    Aerospace engineers specifically work on aircraft and spacecraft, while mechanical engineers can work on a variety of mechanical systems not necessarily related to aviation or space. While both fields require similar skills and can often deal with similar technologies, the applications and design constraints can be very different, especially considering the unique environmental and physical factors that aerospace engineers often have to consider in their designs.

    Can an aerospace engineer work for car manufacturing companies?

    Yes, indeed. They can adapt their skills to many diverse fields, including automotive. In a car manufacturing company, they can lend their expertise in aerodynamics, lightweight materials, and efficient engines. They can be key in designing more fuel-efficient, safe, and streamlined vehicles.

    Is creativity important in the job of an aerospace engineer?

    While aerospace engineering is a highly technical field, creativity is a valuable asset. The industry often demands innovative solutions to complex challenges. From conceptualizing new types of aircraft to developing efficient propulsion systems, creativity enables engineers to come up with inventive designs that might give their employer or client an advantage in a competitive market.

    What’s the role of an aerospace engineer in space exploration?

    Aerospace engineers design and develop spacecraft and propulsion systems, test equipment for functionality and safety, and work on satellite technology. They also come up with solutions to allow human life in space by designing systems that can maintain an environment conducive to human life. From launch to space operations, they are fundamental to every step of space exploration.