Careers in engineering present challenging positions and career opportunities across a variety of industries.
Upon deciding to pursue an engineering career path, one must choose among the different types of engineering specialties such as aerospace, civil, electrical, and chemical engineering. The aerospace engineering specialty features assignments that are literally out of this world.
Definition And Nature Of The Work For Aerospace Engineers
Aerospace engineering is the study of the design, development, and production of air and spacecraft. This engineering discipline is often divided between those who pursue careers on the aeronautical side and those working on space craft. Both air and space vehicles contain complex subsystems that require specialists from many engineering groups such as electrical, mechanical, and computer engineering.
However, the broad knowledge of air and space craft possessed by aerospace engineers best equips them to serve as systems engineers or engineering project managers on most aerospace projects. Aerospace engineers functioning as systems engineers or engineering project managers on projects manage aerospace development and upgrade efforts from an enterprise perspective.
A Day In The Life Of An Aerospace Engineer
Junior level aerospace engineers use their knowledge of aerospace theory gained through a relevant educational background to work as consultants for aerospace companies. Since the aerospace industry is a mature one, there are not a lot of drastically innovative designs to learn at a rapid pace as with other information technology projects.
Junior consultants who have the foundational elements of aerospace vehicle development and have learned the unique elements of specific vehicles pertaining to their client’s project make valuable contributions to the team relatively quickly.
As they gain more real world experience, these aerospace engineers receive greater job responsibilities and opportunities for career advancement. Mid-level aerospace engineers usually serve as systems engineers while senior-level aerospace engineers find themselves working as engineering managers or project managers.
Aerospace vehicles contain many subsystems, and it is the job of aerospace engineers working as managers to be expertly familiar with the functions of all subsystems. Some common vehicle components include the engine, system propulsion, avionics, computer control system, and air and space craft structure. These aerospace engineers oversee the upgrades to these subsystems and assess the risks or benefits to the overall system.
Becoming An Aerospace Engineer
To become an aerospace engineer, one must earn an engineering degree from an accredited university. There are three types of aerospace degree programs available including undergraduate, graduate, and doctorate programs. To work as a junior-level aerospace engineer, one must start by earning an undergraduate degree in aerospace engineering.
Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University is an example of a highly ranked school offering undergraduate degrees in aerospace engineering. As their name implies, Embry-Riddle’s degree program is aircraft focused and not spacecraft centric.
The University of Southern California is also a top ranked aerospace engineering degree program provider, and its undergraduate courses include both air and space studies.
Aerospace engineers looking for a career edge typically embark upon graduate and doctoral studies. Georgia Institute of Technology and Wichita State University have two of the top aerospace engineering advanced degree programs in the country; Wichita State University is also famous for the amount of research funding it has secured for its graduate students, doctoral candidates, and professors.
Aerospace Engineering Employment & Outlook
Although aerospace engineering is an exciting career field, those wishing to enter the industry expect strong competition for positions. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the job growth for this engineering specialty is only projected to rise at a rate of five percent over the next seven years. This specialty lags behind other engineering disciplines in job growth by six percent and is well under the national average growth rate for jobs in other industries.
Typical Aerospace Engineer Salary
Aerospace engineering salaries depend upon many factors including experience, industry segment, job location, and educational credentials. Senior-level aerospace engineers obviously command higher salaries than their junior-level counterparts. Additionally, aerospace engineers that work on defense systems that require security clearances often have higher salaries than those simply working on commercial aircraft upgrades.
These engineers working in the defense industry also experience a greater amount of job security while their colleagues who work on commercial aircraft worry about manufacturing jobs being sent overseas. According to the BLS, the average annual salary earned by an aerospace engineer in 2010 was $97,480.
Career Advancement Opportunities
Even though the experts expect slow growth in this career field, career advancement opportunities still exist for those with the right skills. According to BLS, aerospace engineers that set themselves apart from the rest are the ones who have modeling and simulation skills in addition to a standard aerospace engineering background. The aerospace industry mainly conducts upgrades of its original air and space craft, and these upgrades require extensive testing to make sure that improvements work as expected and when implemented no original functionality is lost.
Most engineering and information technology organizations now rely heavily on modeling and simulation and computer based testing as a cost-effective way to test their systems. Aerospace engineers who know how to use these collaborative test tools save their organizations time and budget on projects.
Career tips for all aerospace engineers are to keep skills fresh and relevant through continued education and training and to network with other professionals by joining the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics an aerospace professional association.