What Do Aerospace Engineers Do? Are you looking for a challenging and innovative career path where you can have a tremendous impact by enabling people to travel to the farthest reaches of the Earth and beyond?
Do you dream about developing cutting-edge aerospace designs for aircraft and/or spacecraft that deliver optimum performance and highest safety?
When people comment, “You’d have to be a rocket scientist to figure that out,” would you like to be able to say, “Actually, I am!”
The field of aerospace engineering offers unique opportunities to make a real difference by applying your knowledge of the overlapping branches of aeronautical (aircraft) engineering and astronautical (spacecraft) engineering.
- Create machines-from airplanes that weigh over a half a million pounds to spacecraft that travel over 17,000 miles an hour.
- Design aircraft, spacecraft, and missiles and supervise the manufacture of these products.
- Develop acceptance criteria for design methods, quality standards, sustainment after delivery, and completion dates.
- Assess proposals for projects to determine if they are technically and financially feasible.
- Evaluate designs to see that the products meet engineering principles, customer requirements, and environmental challenges.
- Inspect malfunctioning or damaged products to identify sources of problems and possible solutions.
Did you know?
- Aerospace engineers who work with aircraft are called aeronautical engineers, and those working specifically with spacecraft are astronautical engineers.
Famous Aerospace Engineers
- Yvonne Brill – Canadian-American propulsion engineer best known for her development of rocket and jet propulsion technologies; involved in a variety of national space programs in the United States, including NASA and the International Maritime Satellite Organization
- Kalpana Chawla – first Indian-American astronaut and first Indian woman in space; one of the seven crew members killed in the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster
- Elon Musk – founder of SpaceX, cofounder of Tesla Motors, PayPal, Inc., and Zip2
- Wernher Von Braun – leading figure in the development of rocket technology in Germany and the United States
- Robert H. Goddard – created and built the world’s first liquid-fueled rocket
- Igor Sikorsky – Russian American pioneer of both helicopter and fixed-wing aircraft
- Howard Head – invented laminate skis and the oversized tennis racket
Areas of Employment
- Aerospace products and parts industry
- Engineering services
- Research and development in the physical, engineering, and life sciences
- Navigational, measuring, electromedical, and control instruments manufacturing
- National defense
- Motor vehicles manufacturing industry
- Consulting firms
- Government institutions including:
- Regulatory agencies, such as the Federal Aviation Administration
- Science and exploration, such as the National Aeronautics and Space Administration
- Safety investigation, such as the National Transportation Safety Board
- National laboratories
- Military service, including Air Force, Navy, and Army
Career Guidance Suggestions for Pre-University Students
- Advanced algebra
- Engineering fundamentals
- Computer-aided design
- Data analysis
- Principles of design
- Rocket propulsion
- Spacecraft technology
- Summer programs
- Afterschool programs
- Online puzzles and games
- Online courses
- Maker Faires
- Design projects
- Science centers and museums
- Professional societies like IEEE
- Analytical skills: identify design elements that may not meet requirements and then formulate alternatives to improve the performance of those elements.
- Business skills: meet federal government standards, requiring knowledge of standard business practices, as well as knowledge of commercial law.
- Critical thinking skills: translate a set of issues into requirements and figure out why a particular design does not work.
- Math skills: apply principles of calculus, trigonometry, and other advanced topics in math for analysis, design, and troubleshooting.
- Problem-solving skills: use education and experience to upgrade designs and troubleshoot problems when meeting new demands for aircraft, such as increased fuel efficiency or improved safety.
- Writing skills: write papers that explain designs clearly and create documentation for future reference.
Links and Resources
- American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics: the world’s largest technical society dedicated to the global aerospace profession.
- American Helicopter Society International: the world’s oldest technical society dedicated to enhancing the understanding of vertical flight technology.
- International Astronautical Federation: advances knowledge about space and fosters the development of space assets through facilitating global cooperation.
- Aerospace Industries Association: the premier trade association representing the nation’s major aerospace and defense manufacturers.
- American Astronautical Society: the premier independent scientific and technical group in the United States exclusively dedicated to the advancement of space science and exploration.
- Society of Flight Test Engineers: information for flight test engineering professionals in test operations, analysis, instrumentation, and data systems fields.
- IEEE Aerospace & Electronic Systems Society: focuses on the organization, systems engineering, design, development, integration, and operation of complex systems for space, air, ocean, or ground environments.