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Aerospace Careers

Career Description

Aerospace Engineers perform a variety of engineering work in designing, constructing, and testing aircraft, missiles, and spacecraft. They may conduct basic and applied research to evaluate adaptability of materials and equipment to aircraft design and manufacture. They may also recommend improvements in testing equipment and techniques.

Common Work Tasks

  • Design, develop, and test aircraft, spacecraft, and missiles and supervise the manufacture of these products
  • Develop new technologies for use in aviation, defense systems, and space exploration, often specializing in areas such as structural design, guidance, navigation and control, instrumentation and communication, or production methods
  • Specialize in a particular type of aerospace product, such as commercial aircraft, military fighter jets, helicopters, spacecraft, or missiles and rockets, and may become experts in aerodynamics, thermodynamics, celestial mechanics, propulsion, acoustics, or guidance and control systems
  • Formulate conceptual design of aeronautical or aerospace products or systems to meet customer requirements
  • Direct and coordinate activities of engineering or technical personnel designing, fabricating, modifying, or testing of aircraft or aerospace products
  • Develop design criteria for aeronautical or aerospace products or systems, including testing methods, production costs, quality standards, and completion dates
  • Plan and conduct experimental, environmental, operational and stress tests on models and prototypes of aircraft and aerospace systems and equipment
  • Evaluate product data and design from inspections and reports for conformance to engineering principles, customer requirements, and quality standards
  • Formulate mathematical models or other methods of computer analysis to develop, evaluate, or modify design according to customer engineering requirements
  • Write technical reports and other documentation such as handbooks and bulletins, for use by engineering staff, management, and customers

Other Job Titles

Aerospace Engineers are also known by other titles, including:

  • Aeronautical Engineers
  • Astronautical Engineers
  • Civil Engineers
  • Electrical Engineers

Education, Training, and Experience

Education and Training
A bachelor’s degree in engineering is required for almost all entry-level engineering jobs. College graduates with a degree in a natural science or mathematics occasionally may qualify for some engineering jobs, especially in specialties in high demand.

Most engineering programs involve a concentration of study in an engineering specialty, along with courses in both mathematics and the physical and life sciences. Many programs also include courses in general engineering. A design course, sometimes accompanied by a computer or laboratory class or both, is part of the curriculum of most programs. General courses not directly related to engineering, such as those in the social sciences or humanities, are also often required.

Graduate training is essential for engineering faculty positions and many research and development programs, but is not required for the majority of entry-level engineering jobs. Many experienced engineers obtain graduate degrees in engineering or business administration to learn new technology and broaden their education. Many high-level executives in government and industry began their careers as engineers.

Certification and Licensure
All 50 States and the District of Columbia require licensure for engineers who offer their services directly to the public. Engineers who are licensed are called professional engineers (PE). This licensure generally requires a degree from an ABET-accredited engineering program, 4 years of relevant work experience, and successful completion of a State examination. Recent graduates can start the licensing process by taking the examination in two stages. The initial Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) examination can be taken upon graduation. Engineers who pass this examination commonly are called engineers in training (EIT) or engineer interns (EI). After acquiring suitable work experience, EITs can take the second examination, the Principles and Practice of Engineering exam. Several States have imposed mandatory continuing education requirements for re-licensure. Most States recognize licensure from other States, provided that the manner in which the initial license was obtained meets or exceeds their own licensure requirements. Many civil, electrical, mechanical, and chemical engineers are licensed PEs. Independent of licensure, various certification programs are offered by professional organizations to demonstrate competency in specific fields of engineering.

  Engineers should be creative, inquisitive, analytical, and detail oriented. They should be able to work as part of a team and to communicate well, both orally and in writing. Communication abilities are becoming increasingly important as engineers frequently interact with specialists in a wide range of fields outside engineering.


The median annual salary for an aerospace engineer is $90,000. The top 10 percent earn more than $129,000, and the lowest 10 percent earn less than $60,000. Median earnings in the industries employing the largest number of aerospace engineers are:

  • Aerospace Product and Parts Manufacturing  - $86,820
  • Navigational, Measuring, Electromedical, and Control Instruments Manufacturing  - $95,310
  • Federal Executive Branch  - $100,060
  • Architectural, Engineering, and Related Services - $101,550
  • Scientific Research and Development Services  - $101,180

Job Outlook

  • 2006-2016 Employment growth:  10%
  • Number of new jobs created 2006-2016: 9,200
  • Employment 2006 : 90,000
  • Employment 2016:  99,000
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