President John F. Kennedy’s words about astronaut Neil Armstrong’s walk on the moon, “one small step for a man, one giant step for mankind,” occurred because of the expertise of aerospace engineers. They are responsible for the development of airplanes weighing more than 500,000 pounds that remain airborne and the innovation required in the creation of the Apollo spacecrafts to the Challenger spacecrafts, which travel more than 17,000 miles per hour. Aerospace engineers can take credit for the creation, design, development, evaluation, testing, and final clearance of aircraft, spacecraft, and missiles. In addition, they oversee and supervise the manufacturing of components and the assembly of aircraft vehicles. Aeronautical engineers are involved with aircraft; astronautical engineers, also aeronautical engineers, specifically focus on spacecraft.
Aviation, travel and exploration in space, and defense mechanisms are technologies that are perfected by aerospace engineers. However, these professionals may also specialize in the control and navigation of spacecraft and aircraft. Furthermore, other facets include communication, such as the advanced technology utilized by air traffic controllers, instrumentation, for example, autopilot instrumentation, aeronautical structure and design, and space travel and exploration. Aerospace engineers are responsible for the creation of vehicles with low air resistance, fuel consumption efficiency and conservation features, solar energy vehicles, and the development of alternate fuel sources.
Aerospace engineers salaries are dependent upon the position, skills required, the years of experience, and the location of the employment. Unequivocally, the earning potential of the aerospace engineer is very competitive and attractive. The median salary of has increased from $72,750 in 2002 to $93,000 as of May 2010.*
The salaries of entry-level aerospace engineers are dependent upon the institution the candidate attended and whether or not postgraduate courses have been successfully completed. Typically, entry-level aerospace engineers who have matriculated at reputable colleges and universities, without any experience, typically earn a starting salary in excess of $60,000.*
The salaries of aerospace engineers can vary; often the variance is based on the geographical location and experience For example, an aerospace engineer in Miami with 3-5 years of experience can earn a salary between $55,000 to $75,000 annually. However, for those engineers with approximately 8 years of experience in Washington DC, the salary range can be between $80,000 and $140,000 per year*
*According to the BLS, http://www.bls.gov/oco/
Job Description and Outlook
Aerospace engineers create, design, evaluate, and configure aircraft, missiles, passenger airplanes, rockets, and small aircraft such as helicopters and include aeronautical engineering, which specialize in spacecraft. This includes electronics, communication, aircraft component design, and manufacturing. Some aerospace engineers are employed by government agencies, such as the Department of Defense, NASA, or companies who contract for the government. Others aerospace engineers work for the airlines and research and/or development.
Working in conjunction with other scientists, such as physicists, aerospace engineers develop new materials and research and study how that material reacts in space. For example, Teflon, which was actually developed for the space program. This field also includes astronautics, which involves space travel, or venturing out of the earth’s orbit to the other planets such as Mars or to the moon.
Some specialize in aircraft or spacecraft guidance, air traffic control systems, and the Instrumentation Landing Systems (ILS) that is automated. This system will facilitate landing at night or in inclement weather.
Training and Education Requirements
A Bachelor of Science degree in engineering is required for most entry-level positions in the aerospace industry. It requires matriculation for four to five years at a college or university. The curriculum includes the core classes with concentrations in math, and sciences. In the third and fourth year specialization courses in aeronautical engineering, aerospace engineering, or astronautical engineering are available.
Education does not end with the conferring of the degree, aerospace engineers must engage and invest in continuing education courses and attend seminars to keep abreast and apprised of new developments in the field. Aerospace engineering technology is changing rapidly; therefore, it is critical to be aware of these changes; lives hang in the balance.
It has been projected that employment opportunities for aerospace engineers will grow more slowly through 2014 due to government cutbacks and freezes in the space program. However, aerospace engineers will be needed for military projects, but the production of aircraft used for commercial travel is projected to decrease. Therefore it is critical for aerospace engineering professionals to invest in additional training and courses to be functional in new technological developments in the field. Additional education will give the individual a career or hiring advantage over those who are only qualified in one specific or narrow facet of aerospace technology.
Some aerospace engineers start their own firms, open engineering consulting businesses, or teach at colleges and universities.
Licensing is required in all states for engineers involved in industries that affect “life, health, property, or the public.” A bachelor’s degree is required from an accredited college or university, experience as an engineer (can be an internship), and an acceptable or passing grade on the mandated state engineering examination is necessary for licensing.
Some positions additionally require a security clearance.
Aerospace engineers professional organizations include the following:
The American Institute of Aeronautic and Astronautics- dedicated to serving technical needs and promotes professional development. It was organized 69 years ago and has over 27,000 members
American Society of Mechanical Engineers- has over 100,000 members. It offers conferences, reports, research, and journals for members.
Pi Tau Sigma (PTS)- honorary society for exemplary mechanical and aerospace engineers in the United States. It promotes scholarship, outreach, integrity and offers membership to those who are a credit to their profession.