Individuals who create the technological tools that have launched humankind, space shuttles, satellites, and exploration rovers into space are called aerospace engineers. Those who specialize in aircraft within Earth’s atmosphere, like commercial transports, helicopters, or missiles, are referred to as aeronautical engineers. Engineers who focus specifically on spacecraft and astronautics are called astronautic engineers.
Aerospace engineers conceptualize, design, develop, test, and supervise production of aeronautical, aerospace, and defense products or systems such as spacecraft, launch vehicles, aerospace instruments, planes, satellites, missiles and rockets, etc., taking into consideration the most efficient use of the natural laws affecting flight. They are involved in establishing structural specifications, devising and applying testing methods, making analytical predictions, as well as in assessing production costs, quality control standards, and completion dates. Aerospace engineers analyze engineering data, implement new tools, assess product viability, conduct experiments, and make necessary modifications to prototype models and actual products according to engineering principles, safety regulations, and customer specifications. They evaluate performance documentation and inspect damaged products and parts to determine problems with aircraft or aerospace vehicles in the case of malfunctioning equipment. Their responsibilities may also include generating written technical performance reports and writing manuals for multiple uses by customers, management, and other engineers.
Aerospace engineering professionals must possess a wide knowledge of aircraft/spacecraft analysis disciplines, including fluid mechanics, vehicle performance, structures, mission analysis, and propulsion. And since they use numerical and computer analysis methods to make their projections and perform complex calculations, knowledge of modern computer languages such as Java, VB, C++, or XML, Computer-Aided Design, robotics, lasers and advanced electronic optics is essential to their work. Many 4-year colleges and universities offer a Bachelor’s degree in aerospace engineering. When deciding on what area of aerospace appeals to you most, consider your interests. Are you oriented toward research and development or would you rather be associated with design and manufacture? An engineer with some work experience should consider registering as a professional engineer with a state professional association. Registration requirements vary by state. Employment opportunities are available in government agencies as well as private sector. Engineers applying for a job with the Department of Defense or National Aeronautics and Space Administration are subject to the government security clearance criteria for access to classified information.
There are ample advancement opportunities in project management or organizational management. In project management, an individual leads a team of engineers from different fields (electrical, software, mechanical, optics, orbital mechanics, etc.) to produce a particular product. Management positions would require a Master of Science degree. Many NASA engineers have Ph.D.’s as well.
Students interested in pursuing a Bachelor’s degree should consult with an academic and/or transfer counselor to discuss university transfer requirements.
Key Skills and Characteristics
- Natural curiosity, desire to achieve, ambition, drive to succeed.
- Knowledge of mathematics and scientific rules and methods.
- Technical, analytical, and critical thinking and decision-making ability.
- Complex problem solving.
- Effective organizational and time-management skills.
- Ability to communicate clearly in writing and in oral presentations.
- People skills (as in leading and participating in teams).
- In-depth knowledge of computer languages and applications.
- Capability to work under pressure and meet deadlines.
- Adapt well to frequent change.
Related Career Titles
*Aeronautical Design Engineer *Aeronautical Engineer *Aeronautical Research Engineer *Aeronautical Test Engineer *Astronautic Engineer *Structural Analysts *Thermal Analysts *Orbital Mechanics Engineers *Loads Analysts
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