Aerospace engineers design aircraft, spacecraft, satellites, missiles, and systems for national defense. In addition, they test prototypes to make sure that they function according to design. They are employed primarily in analysis and design, manufacturing, industries that perform research and development, and the federal government.
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Aerospace engineers typically do the following:
Aerospace engineers may develop new technologies for use in aviation, defense systems, and spacecraft. They often specialize in areas such as aerodynamic fluid flow; structural design; guidance, navigation, and control; instrumentation and communication; robotics; or propulsion and combustion. They can specialize in designing different types of aerospace products, such as commercial and military airplanes and helicopters; remotely piloted aircraft and rotorcraft; spacecraft, including launch vehicles and satellites; and military missiles and rockets. They often become experts in one or more related fields: aerodynamics, thermodynamics, celestial mechanics, flight mechanics, propulsion, acoustics, and guidance and control systems.
Entry-level aerospace engineers usually need a bachelor's degree. High school students interested in studying aerospace engineering should take courses in chemistry, physics, and mathematics, including algebra, trigonometry, and calculus. Bachelor degree programs are designed to take four years and include classroom, laboratory, and field studies in subjects such as general engineering principles, propulsion, stability and control, structures, mechanics, and aerodynamics (which is the study of how air interacts with moving objects). Some colleges and universities offer cooperative programs, in partnership with industry, that give students practical experience while they complete their education. Cooperative programs and internships allow students to get valuable experience and to finance part of their education. At some universities, a student can enroll in a five-year program that leads to both a bachelor’s degree and master’s degree upon completion. A graduate degree will allow an engineer to work as an instructor at a university or to do research and development.
Aerospace engineers work in offices, laboratories, or manufacturing environments for either private companies or the federal government.
The median annual wage of aerospace engineers was $97,480 in May 2010. (The median wage is the wage at which half of the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less.) The lowest 10% earned less than $60,620, and the top 10% earned more than $143,360. Median annual wages in the industries employing the largest numbers of aerospace engineers in May 2010 were as follows: