How to Become an Aerospace Engineer

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Two aerospace engineers work on an aerial drone.In 2019, the aerospace market was valued at over $340 billion worldwide, according to a study published by The Business Research Company. The aerospace industry continues to evolve with technological advancements in aeronautics, computer science, engineering, material science, and beyond.

Aerospace engineers design, test, and repair aircraft, and may develop plans for missiles and satellites. Learning how to become an aerospace engineer is an important first step in understanding the many responsibilities of the position.

While a bachelor’s degree qualifies graduates for entry-level positions in aerospace engineering, professionals with an advanced degree, such as a Master of Science in Electrical Engineering, may have the opportunity to fill leadership roles in the field.

Aerospace Engineer Job Duties and Work Environments

Aerospace engineers develop and design various aircraft, including helicopters, turboprops, electric airplanes, and jetliners. Those who work for the government may work on defense projects such as missiles or communication satellites. They also review project proposals to determine whether they are financially and technically feasible.

Once a bid has been accepted, aerospace engineers establish timelines and spending plans to keep projects on time and within budget. Those in leadership positions manage teams of engineers and ensure that projects meet state, local, and federal guidelines, while maintaining quality standards and meeting customer satisfaction.

The two major fields of aerospace engineering are aeronautical engineering and astronautical engineering. Aeronautical engineers design, test, and repair aircraft. They specialize in aerodynamics within the earth’s atmosphere. In contrast, astronautical engineers specialize in the aerodynamics of spacecraft, focusing on how various forces in space act upon objects, which allows them to work on satellites and missiles.

The two fields share considerable overlap, especially within the various industries associated with the role. For example, both aeronautical and astronautical engineers can work for commercial organizations such as Boeing, Lockheed Martin, and McDonnell Douglas, or for the federal government.

Public and Private Sector Opportunities

Aerospace engineers who work for government agencies develop technologies for aviation defense systems and design strategies to implement these new technologies. Those who work for private sector aerospace manufacturers may design navigation software, robotics, and propulsion systems for airlines and other publicly held companies, but also often work on government-contracted projects. Some may choose to conduct research and development efforts for aerospace organizations or research facilities.

For those interested in the research and development aspect of aerospace engineering, the growing demand for renewable energy and the advancement of green technology has fueled expanded efforts to develop energy-efficient aircraft. In 2020, the aerospace engineers at AeroTEC and eCaravan developed a nine-passenger electric-powered airplane with an operating cost of $6 for a 30-minute flight, as opposed to the $300 operating cost of a comparable gas-powered plane.

The aerospace industry continues to push the boundaries of the possible, as researchers pioneer innovative technologies and processes.

Steps to Become an Aerospace Engineer

Those who are interested in learning how to become an aerospace engineer need to consider the steps to pursue a leadership role in the field. The path requires professionals to earn a bachelor’s degree, gain work experience, and potentially pursue further licensure or an advanced degree. Professionals who accomplish these steps are on the path to becoming a qualified aerospace engineer.

Step 1: Earn a Bachelor’s Degree

Individuals interested in learning how to become an aerospace engineer must first earn a bachelor’s degree. The degree should be in an engineering-related field like electrical engineering. The degree must also be from a university certified by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET).

Step 2: Gain Work Experience

Upon earning a bachelor’s degree in an engineering-related field, future aerospace engineers can seek employment in the field. These professionals should gain four years of work experience under the tutelage of a professional engineer (PE) who is responsible for overseeing their pupils and teaching them the foundations of the field.

Step 3: Earn a Master’s Degree

Aerospace engineers who are interested in pursuing leadership positions should consider an advanced engineering degree. Professionals who consider a master’s in electrical engineering can develop advanced knowledge of engineering practices that directly relates to the field of aerospace engineering. Graduate-level study can offer the opportunity to specialize in various subfields of aerospace engineering, such as aerodynamics, material science, or propulsion.

Licensure and Certification

Professionals who wish to start a career in aerospace engineering must first pass the National Society of Professional Engineers’ (NSPE) Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam after earning their bachelor’s degree. The next step in the process is to pass the NSPE’s Principles and Practice in Engineering (PE) exam, which tests knowledge in a chosen engineering discipline (electrical, industrial, etc.) and engineering ethics.

Trends in Aerospace Engineering

The aerospace industry needs knowledgeable engineers who have the skill set and understanding to impact emerging trends, such as autonomous flight systems, sustainability, and simulated technology.

  • Autonomous Flight Systems. Aerospace engineers rely heavily on artificial intelligence (AI) to interpret vast amounts of data in the development of autonomous flight systems. Machine learning allows engineers to streamline the development lifecycle of these systems. They develop code to program AI to identify and resolve issues that may arise in autonomous aircraft.
  • Aerospace organizations understand the need to develop more sustainable practices to mitigate climate change, and are investing considerable research and development efforts into alternative fuels. Engineers in leadership positions are evaluating the manufacturing process to identify more sustainable practices, such as using renewable materials in manufacturing.
  • Simulated Technology. Aerospace engineers employ simulation software in the development of new aircraft, engines, propulsion systems, and other products. Computational fluid dynamics (CFD) software allows engineers to digitally model their designs’ performance in various thermal-fluid systems, which saves money on costly prototypes.

Skill Set

To meet the demands of emerging aerospace trends, aerospace engineers should develop strategies that incorporate their strong technical, math, and analytical skills.

  • Aerospace engineers should have the technical skill set to troubleshoot engineering issues and initiate upgrades. When executing a project, they must understand its technical scope and ensure it stays within the specifications outlined by federal, state, and local jurisdictions.
  • Mathematics is a foundational skill that all aerospace engineers need to master, exhibiting a firm grasp of linear algebra, calculus, and trigonometry. This knowledge allows them to interpret how fluid mechanics impacts an aircraft’s flight, for example.
  • Aerospace engineers must be able to analyze a design, identify potential problems, and offer solutions. If a design element fails, they evaluate the scope of the issue and identify how it can be fixed.

Pursue an Advanced Degree in Electrical Engineering

The aerospace industry is rapidly evolving, in part due to rising global defense spending. Deloitte, the multinational professional services firm, reports that global defense spending in 2021 surpassed $2 trillion, and in 2020 the global investment in space was about $25 billion.

Aerospace engineering will have a major impact on the global marketplace for decades to come.

If you are interested in learning how to become an aerospace engineer, consider an advanced degree in electrical engineering. Ohio University’s online Master of Science in Electrical Engineering (MSEE) helps prepare graduates for careers in the aerospace industry. The program offers a number of concentrations to choose from, including Autonomous Unmanned Vehicles, Communications, and Digital Signal Processing, Computer Engineering, Electrical Engineering, Electronic Navigation Systems, and Micro-Nano Devices and Systems.

Discover how Ohio University’s online Master of Science in Electrical Engineering is preparing engineers to become global leaders in the aerospace industry.

Recommended Readings

7 Popular Electrical Engineering Careers

How a Master’s Degree Can Boost Your Engineering Career

7 Pros and Cons of Drones and Unmanned Aerial Vehicles

Sources:

Aerospace Industries Association, “What’s Next for Aerospace and Defense: A Vision for 2050”
Aerospace Testing International, “Top 5 Simulation Technologies for Aerospace in 2019”
Arxiv.org, “Data-Driven Aerospace Engineering: Reframing the Industry with Machine Learning”
BBC, “The Largest Electric Plane Ever to Fly”
The Boss Magazine, “Aerospace Industry Trends You Need to Know”
The Business Research Company, “Aerospace Market Opportunities And Strategies — Global Forecast To 2023”
Deloitte, “2021 Aerospace and Defense Industry Outlook
Houston Chronicle, “Aerospace vs. Mechanical Engineer”
National Society of Professional Engineers, What Is a PE?
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Aerospace Engineers