Professionals who specialize in aeronautical and aerospace engineering are called aerospace engineers. They design things that fly, such as combat jets, passenger airliners, intercontinental missiles and communications satellites. They work a standard 40-hour week unless deadlines force longer hours. Though most earn their salaries from offices, they also visit manufacturing facilities and airfields to oversee production and testing.
The 79,400 aerospace engineers in the U.S. averaged $103,870 per year or $49.94 per hour, as of May 2011, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The agency predicts jobs for the profession will increase by 5 percent from 2010 to 2020. This is far lower than the 14 percent increases forecast for all occupations and also less than the 11 percent rate for all engineers. Fueling the growth is the redesign of aircraft to reduce noise pollution and increase fuel efficiency. Depressing the increases are the tight security clearances required by engineers to work on national defense projects. The best opportunities will go to those who know about modeling, simulation, robotics and collaborative engineering tools.
In 2011, salaries for aerospace engineers could top $147,810 per year or $71.06 per hour. They could also fall to less than $65,310 per year or $31.40 per hour. To earn this range, engineers need a minimum bachelor’s degree in aerospace engineering or a related subject. The course of study combines work in the classroom, laboratory and field in engineering principles, stability and control, propulsion, mechanics and aerodynamics. Those requiring security clearances might need U.S. citizenship for certain levels. Those with project responsibility might also need a professional engineer license, which mandates the educational background, work experience and passing scores on two exams.
The biggest employers of aerospace engineers were the manufacturers of aerospace products and parts. They contained more than a third of all positions and paid average salaries of $96,740 per year or $46.51 per hour. Scientific research and development services were next, with almost 15 percent of the jobs, with averages at $109,740 per year or $52.76 per hour. The highest-paying careers were in management, scientific and technical consulting services, where average pay reached $115,780 per year or $55.66 per hour. Wholesalers of machinery, equipment and supplies were next, with mean wages of $115,290 per year or $55.43 per hour.
Professionals in aeronautical and aerospace engineering research projects to determine if they are technically feasible within a given budget. They evaluate designs so they meet customer expectations, government regulations and engineering principles. They also test their creations, identify sources of any problems and develop practical solutions. Engineers often specialize in such areas as structural design or navigation, or in particular products such as rockets or helicopters. They typically focus on one of two engineering types. Aeronautical engineers work on aircraft within the earth’s atmosphere. Astronautical engineers handle spacecraft outside the earth’s atmosphere.