CAREER PATHWAYS

Looking for the perfect job?
Explore our Career Guides!

Read More

How to Become an Aerospace Engineer

By Ajoke Aminu

Published:

Do you want to follow in the footsteps of famous aerospace engineers like Neil Armstrong or Burt Rutan? Then get ready to take on a challenge unlike any other! Becoming an aerospace engineer is a complex journey, but this step-by-step guide will give you the roadmap to reach your career goals.

Career Summary

Aerospace Engineer Salary

Aerospace Engineer Salary

Aerospace engineers can expect a yearly salary range between $70,000 to $130,000. 

  • Entry Salary (US$73k)
  • Median Salary (US$99k)
  • Executive Salary (US$127k)

In 2020, the average annual wage for those working in the U.S. was close to US$69,000 meaning that an Aerospace Engineer’s wage is generally higher than the national average.

What do Aerospace Engineers do?

Think of the marvels of flight – a plane’s sleek shape, the engines’ roar, and the awe-inspiring feeling of soaring through the clouds– aerospace engineers make that happen. They ensure flight stability and enable human space travel by designing, testing, and researching components for vehicles used in atmospheric and space travel. Aerospace engineers employ various materials and technologies to develop systems, including engines, propulsion units, and guidance systems.

In addition to advanced math and science proficiency, aerospace engineers require various additional skills, such as:

  • Knowledge of aerodynamics, thermodynamics, and other relevant disciplines.
  • Ability to problem-solve and troubleshoot engineering issues.
  • Experience with modeling, analysis software and design tools.
  • Excellent communication skills.
  • Attention to detail.

Aerospace Engineer Career Progression

Here is a highlight of aerospace engineer roles and general progression:

  • Entry Level Aerospace Engineer: Design and develop aircraft, spacecraft, satellites, and missiles.
  • Senior Aerospace Engineer: Research problems in flight dynamics to ensure projects comply with safety standards.
  • Lead Aerospace Engineer: Oversee aerospace product design process, ensuring projects meet customer requirements.
  • Aerospace Manager or Director: Lead teams of engineers and technicians as they develop advanced aerospace systems.
Aerospace Engineer Career Progression

Pros:

  • Highest-paying engineering job.
  • Opportunity to work on a variety of projects.
  • Great learning and development opportunities.

Cons:

  • High-stress level due to tight deadlines.
  • Difficult to gain experience in the industry without specific qualifications.

Popular Specialties within the Aerospace Engineering Career Path are:

  • Aerodynamics
  • Avionics
  • Propulsion and Power Generation
  • Flight Dynamics and Control

How to become an Aerospace Engineer

Aerospace Engineer 5 Steps to Career

Explore this guide further to learn more about the qualifications you need, the job market outlook, and what it takes to become an aerospace engineer.

Aerospace engineers aren’t just rocket scientists – they’re masters of designing and creating everything that flies. These galactic geniuses can be found in all areas of flight design, including aerospace defense, satellites, commercial planes, and everything in between.

Whether you’re just starting, curious, or switching from another field, these steps will help shape your understanding of how best to begin pursuing one of today’s most cutting-edge professions.

Education

To become an aerospace engineer, you’ll need a bachelor’s degree in aerospace engineering, aeronautical engineering, or a related field such as mathematics and physics. If you already have a degree in another subject but want to pursue this career path, some universities offer bridge programs that allow for transferring credits from a previous degree.

But before that, here are some answers you should know while considering an education in aerospace engineering.

Is a degree Compulsory to become an Aerospace Engineer?

Yes, you will need a degree to become an aerospace engineer. A bachelor’s degree in aerospace engineering is strongly recommended; however, if this is not possible, then aeronautical engineering or a related field, such as mathematics, physics, and applied science may suffice.

And since the sky’s not the limit—it’s just the beginning, an advanced degree may be necessary, depending on your career plans. Master’s degrees in aerospace engineering are available for those who want to pursue a more specialized field. The FAA also provides certification courses and licensure requirements for aerospace engineers working with commercial aircraft.

Why is it important to get a degree in Aerospace Engineering?

Getting a degree in Aerospace Engineering is certainly the rocket fuel needed for your career. Having a degree will give you the skills, experience, and contacts to propel your career. A degree program in aerospace engineering will provide you with a comprehensive understanding of aeronautics and space technology that employers are looking for. With an advanced degree, you’ll gain access to more specialized fields as well as higher positions within the industry.

How long does it take to get a degree in Aerospace Engineering?

On average, a Bachelor’s degree in Aerospace Engineering will have you soaring through the academic skies for approximately four years. This mission involves a mix of classroom lectures, mind-bending problem sets, and hands-on laboratory experiments. There’s more; if you want to delve deeper into the mysteries of aerospace, a Master’s degree can add two years to your odyssey. You’ll dive into specialized coursework, conduct advanced research, and perhaps launch your space exploration project.

Additionally, seeking the highest level of knowledge means a Ph.D. in Aerospace Engineering awaits. Brace yourself for an epic expedition spanning around five to six years of dedicated research, dissertation writing, and becoming an undisputed expert in your chosen area of specialization.

Nevertheless, these timeframes may vary depending on your course load, academic progress, and any detours you may take along the way.

How much does it cost to study Aerospace Engineering at university?

The cost of studying Aerospace Engineering at a university can vary depending on various factors such as the country, the specific university, the program’s duration, and whether you are an international or domestic student.

Generally, tuition fees can vary significantly across universities and countries. For example, the annual tuition fees for Aerospace Engineering programs at reputable universities in the United States can range from US$27,000 to US$65,000 or more. Meanwhile, pursuing a master’s degree in aerospace engineering is estimated between US$24,000 to US$56,000.

Note that public universities generally have lower tuition fees for in-state students compared to out-of-state or international students.

Meanwhile, universities often offer aerospace engineering scholarships, grants, and financial aid opportunities to help students offset the cost of tuition. These can be merit-based, need-based, or specific to the field of Aerospace Engineering. Additionally, external scholarships and sponsorships may be available from organizations, foundations, or government bodies supporting students in STEM fields.

Can I become an Aerospace Engineer through online education?

Absolutely! The world of online education has expanded its horizons to embrace aspiring Aerospace Engineers. While traditionally hands-on disciplines, like Aerospace Engineering, may seem challenging to pursue online, technological advancements have made it increasingly feasible.

Here’s how you can navigate the online atmosphere to launch your career:

  • Accredited Programs & Virtual Classrooms: Look for accredited programs offering Aerospace Engineering degrees. Accreditation ensures that the program meets specific educational standards, providing a quality education recognized by employers and industry professionals.
  • Simulations and Virtual Labs: Hands-on experience is essential in aerospace engineering, and online programs have adapted to provide simulations and virtual labs. These interactive tools allow you to experiment, analyze data, and gain practical skills in a virtual environment.
  • Internship and Co-op Opportunities: Seek online programs facilitating internships or co-op opportunities with aerospace companies. These practical experiences allow you to apply your knowledge in real-world settings and build a professional network within the industry.

While online education offers flexibility, discipline and self-motivation are crucial to success. Dedicate yourself to the coursework, actively participate in discussions, and seek guidance from professors when needed.

Whether you choose to pursue aerospace engineering through traditional or online education, what truly matters is your dedication, passion, and willingness to learn.

What are some web resources to learn skills to become an Aerospace Engineer?

To embark on your journey of learning skills to become an Aerospace Engineer, here are some web resources that can help you navigate the skies of knowledge:

  • NASA’s Website: Explore the official website of NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) for a treasure trove of information. From educational resources to research articles, NASA offers a wealth of materials covering various aspects of aerospace engineering and space exploration.
  • AIAA – American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics: Visit the AIAA website, a renowned professional organization dedicated to advancing aerospace science, technology, and engineering. They provide resources, publications, and conferences that cover a wide range of aerospace topics.
  • NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) Education: JPL’s Education website provides a range of educational resources, including videos, interactive activities, and lesson plans related to space exploration and engineering. It’s a great resource for understanding spacecraft design, planetary science, and more.
  • YouTube Channels: Dive into the world of aerospace engineering through educational YouTube channels such as “NASA TV,” “Everyday Astronaut,” and “Curious Droid.” These channels offer engaging videos that cover various aerospace topics, including rocketry, space missions, and engineering challenges.
  • Online Forums and Communities: Join online communities and forums dedicated to aerospace engineering, such as Reddit’s r/AerospaceEngineering and r/SpaceX. Engaging with fellow enthusiasts, asking questions, and participating in discussions can provide valuable insights and networking opportunities.
  • Online Tutorials and Simulations: Explore websites like SimScale, where you can access free engineering simulation tools and tutorials. These resources allow you to practice and improve your understanding of fluid dynamics, aerodynamics, and other essential concepts.

Practical Experience

Although education provides a solid foundation, combining it with practical experience may be the best teacher, after all. Hands-on involvement is crucial in this field. Therefore, to gain valuable practical exposure, joining engineering clubs, engaging in design projects, and seizing internship opportunities is essential.

These experiences will propel your understanding and proficiency in the world of aerospace engineering. Additionally, it provides a platform for networking with other professionals in the field. Remember, the sky is meant to be studied and explored through real-world encounters.

What are Internship Opportunities for an Aerospace Engineer?

Internship opportunities for Aerospace Engineers are diverse and can provide invaluable hands-on experience in various sectors of the industry.

Here are some common internship avenues for aspiring Aerospace Engineers:

  • Aerospace Companies: Major aerospace companies such as Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Airbus, Northrop Grumman, and SpaceX often offer internship programs. These internships can cover a wide range of areas, including aircraft design, propulsion systems, avionics, and manufacturing processes.
  • Government Agencies: Government entities like NASA and the Department of Defense often provide internship opportunities for Aerospace Engineering students. These internships may involve working on cutting-edge projects, conducting research, or supporting space exploration missions.
  • Research Institutions: Universities and research institutions with aerospace engineering departments often have research-focused internships. These opportunities allow you to contribute to ongoing projects, work closely with faculty or researchers, and gain exposure to advanced research methodologies.
  • Space Organizations: Apart from NASA, private space organizations like Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic offer internships. These internships can provide hands-on experience in rocket design, space systems, launch operations, and space tourism.
  • Aerospace Consulting Firms: Consulting firms specializing in aerospace engineering may offer internships to students. These internships can involve projects related to aerodynamic analysis, structural design, or systems integration for aircraft or spacecraft.
  • Defense and Military Contractors: Companies that work with defense and military contracts, such as Raytheon or BAE Systems, may provide internships focused on aerospace technology and defense systems. These opportunities can involve missile systems, radar technology, or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).
  • Aviation and Airlines: Internships with airlines or aviation companies can offer exposure to aircraft maintenance, flight operations, or airline management. While these internships may not be strictly aerospace engineering-focused, they provide valuable insights into the broader aviation industry.

10 Essential Aerospace Engineer Skills You Must Know

As an Aerospace Engineer, you will acquire diverse skills essential for designing and testing aircraft, spacecraft, and missiles and developing a deep understanding of materials science, aerodynamics, and propulsion systems. And let’s not forget the thrill of problem-solving and figuring out how to get objects to defy gravity.

As an added bonus, the average aerospace engineer salary is nothing to scoff at. So if you’re ready to reach for the stars and get paid while at it, this might just be your career!

Here are some key skills you can expect to learn:

  • Engineering Principles: You will develop a strong foundation in engineering principles, including physics, mathematics, and mechanics. These fundamental concepts form the backbone of aerospace engineering and are crucial for understanding the behavior of aircraft and spacecraft.
  • Aerodynamics: You will delve into the science of aerodynamics, studying how air flows around objects, lift generation, drag reduction, and control surfaces. Understanding aerodynamics is vital for designing efficient and stable aircraft and spacecraft.
  • Structures and Materials: You will learn about the structural components of aircraft and spacecraft, including materials used, stress analysis, and structural integrity. This knowledge helps you design robust, lightweight structures that withstand demanding flight conditions.
  • Propulsion Systems: You will gain expertise in propulsion systems, including jet engines for aircraft and rocket engines for spacecraft. You will learn about combustion processes, thermodynamics, propulsion efficiency, and propulsion system integration.
  • Control Systems and Avionics: You will acquire knowledge of control systems and avionics, which involve flight control, navigation systems, and communication systems. Understanding these systems is crucial for ensuring aircraft and spacecraft’s safe and precise operation.
  • Computer-Aided Design (CAD): Using CAD software, you will learn to create detailed 3D aircraft and spacecraft models. CAD skills enable you to visualize and analyze designs, make modifications, and prepare technical drawings for manufacturing.
  • Systems Engineering: Aerospace engineering involves complex systems with numerous interconnected components. To ensure overall system functionality, you will develop systems engineering skills, including requirements analysis, integration, and testing.
  • Problem-Solving and Analytical Thinking: As an Aerospace Engineer, you will sharpen your problem-solving skills and analytical thinking. You will learn to tackle complex challenges, research, analyze data, and develop innovative solutions to optimize performance and address engineering problems.
  • Teamwork and Communication: Aerospace engineering projects often require collaboration with multidisciplinary teams. You will develop effective teamwork and communication skills to collaborate with engineers, scientists, technicians, and professionals from various backgrounds.
  • Safety and Regulations: Aerospace engineering emphasizes safety and adherence to regulations. You will learn about aerospace industry standards, certification processes, and safety protocols to ensure compliance with regulatory requirements.

Note that this is not an exhaustive list, and your skill set will continue to evolve throughout your career as you gain experience and specialize in specific areas of aerospace engineering. The field is dynamic, and ongoing learning and professional development are essential to stay at the forefront of advancements in the aerospace industry.

Best Aspects of Working as an Aerospace Engineer

As an Aerospace Engineer, you can explore the final frontier and work on cutting-edge technology that helps humanity take flight. Not only that, but the aerospace engineer is also out of this world (pun intended), and you get to work with a team of passionate and intelligent individuals committed to making history with every project.

Working as an Aerospace Engineer offers a plethora of exciting and rewarding aspects that make it a dream profession for many.

Here are some of the best aspects of working in this field:

  • Innovation and Advancement
  • Impactful Contributions
  • Variety of Specializations
  • Collaborative and Team-Oriented Environment
  • Travel and International Opportunities
  • Competitive Compensation and Benefits
  • Prestige and Recognition
  • Lifelong Learning and Growth

These aspects combine to make working as an Aerospace Engineer a thrilling and fulfilling experience. It allows you to contribute to groundbreaking projects, collaborate with exceptional individuals, and be part of an industry that shapes the future of humanity’s exploration and understanding of the skies above.

Worst Aspects of Working as an Aerospace Engineer

Like every other job, being an aerospace engineer has its challenges. So, let’s explore what could be the cons of this fascinating career.

Here are the worst aspects that can occasionally test the mettle of aerospace engineers:

  • Tight Deadlines
  • Complex Regulations
  • High-Stakes Responsibility
  • Multidisciplinary Collaboration
  • Limited Margin for Error
  • Travel Demands

What is the Work-Life Balance of an Aerospace Engineer

Ah, the delicate dance of work-life balance– indeed, the life of an aerospace engineer shouldn’t be all rocket science and no play. Sure, long hours are spent analyzing flight data and designing complex aircraft structures, but aerospace engineers should also enjoy a work-life balance. With a median aerospace engineer salary of around $122,270, they have the means to enjoy life outside of the lab or office.

Let’s take a closer look at this cosmic balancing act:

  • Launch Deadlines vs. Personal Time: Working as an Aerospace Engineer often involves tight project schedules and critical deadlines. Sometimes, the countdown to launch can demand extra effort and long hours. But fear not! Many aerospace companies strive to maintain a healthy work-life balance, providing flexible schedules and encouraging time off to recharge those rocket-fueled batteries.
  • Passion and Dedication: Aerospace engineering is a field that ignites passion and dedication. Engineers often find themselves deeply engrossed in their work, exploring the vast expanse of knowledge and pushing the limits of innovation. While this commitment is commendable, it’s essential to find moments to detach and engage in personal pursuits to keep the balance intact.
  • Stellar Problem-Solving and Time Management: Aerospace Engineers excel in problem-solving and time management skills. These talents come in handy when juggling work commitments and personal responsibilities. Efficiently managing time, setting priorities, and finding innovative solutions can help maintain that elusive equilibrium between work and life beyond the atmosphere.
  • Unpredictable Cosmic Events: Occasionally, unexpected cosmic events can disrupt the tranquility of work-life balance. Urgent project needs, mission deadlines, or unforeseen technical challenges can arise, requiring flexibility and adaptability. However, rest assured that these cosmic ripples are usually balanced by relative calm and stability periods.
  • Lifelong Learning in Orbit: Aerospace engineering is a field that thrives on continuous learning and professional growth. Engineers often engage in ongoing education, attend conferences, or delve into research to stay at the cutting edge of technology. While this commitment to knowledge expansion is invigorating, allocating time for personal pursuits outside aerospace is also important.
  • Gravity-Assisted Personal Time: Many aerospace companies understand the importance of work-life balance and actively promote it. They offer generous vacation time, flexible schedules, remote work options, and wellness programs to help engineers find their gravitational equilibrium between work and personal life.

What’s the Career Outlook for Aerospace Engineer?

The career outlook for aerospace engineers in the USA is promising, with steady demand expected due to ongoing advancements in aviation, space exploration, and defense.

While the industry may experience fluctuations influenced by economic factors and government funding, the need for skilled aerospace engineers remains high, particularly in areas such as aircraft and spacecraft design, research and development, and the emerging field of unmanned aerial systems.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics envisions the aerospace engineering field will experience a 6% upsurge in employment from 2021 to 2031.

Aerospace Engineer Popular Career Specialties

What are the Job Opportunities of an Aerospace Engineer?

Are you ready to take your career to new heights? Aerospace Engineering might be perfect for you, as this promising occupation is designed to take you places beyond your imagination. This STEM field offers a wide range of job opportunities for the curious and innovative mind. As an Aerospace Engineer, you’ll be responsible for designing, testing, and maintaining aircraft, spacecraft, and missiles. You’ll be able to work with cutting-edge technology in fields such as avionics, propulsion, and materials science.

Let’s embark on an interstellar journey through the myriad job opportunities awaiting Aerospace Engineers:

  • Aerospace Engineer: An aerospace engineer applies scientific principles and engineering concepts to design, develop, and improve aircraft, spacecraft, and related technologies.
  • Design Engineer: A design engineer utilizes their expertise in engineering and creativity to conceptualize, develop, and optimize innovative designs for various products or systems.
  • CAD Technician: A CAD technician employs computer-aided design (CAD) software to create precise technical drawings and models used in the design and production of aerospace components and systems.
  • Thermodynamics Engineer: A thermodynamics engineer specializes in the study of heat transfer and energy conversion, applying their knowledge to optimize the performance and efficiency of aerospace systems and engines.
  • Flight Software Test Engineer: A flight software test engineer is responsible for designing and executing rigorous tests to ensure the reliability and functionality of the software used in aerospace vehicles and their control systems.
  • Spacecraft Systems Engineer: A spacecraft systems engineer oversees the design, integration, and operation of various systems on spacecraft, ensuring their compatibility and functionality for successful missions.
  • Propulsion Engineer: A propulsion engineer focuses on the design and development of engines and propulsion systems used in aerospace vehicles, aiming to achieve efficient and high-performance propulsion.
  • Airframe Design Engineer: An airframe design engineer specializes in creating the structural design and layout of aircraft, ensuring they meet safety, performance, and aerodynamic requirements.
  • Maintenance Engineer: A maintenance engineer is responsible for ensuring the safe operation, maintenance, and repair of aerospace equipment and systems, employing their technical expertise to minimize downtime and optimize performance.
  • Manufacturing Systems Engineer: A manufacturing systems engineer develops and implements efficient production processes, machinery, and quality control systems to facilitate the manufacturing of aerospace components and systems.
  • Materials Engineer: A materials engineer focuses on researching, developing, and selecting materials with specific properties for use in aerospace applications, considering factors such as strength, weight, durability, and resistance to extreme conditions.
  • Mechanical Engineer: A mechanical engineer applies principles of physics and materials science to design, analyze, and improve mechanical systems and components used in aerospace vehicles, ensuring their functionality and structural integrity.

Top 10 Companies Employing Aerospace Engineers in 2023

More companies seek the talents of aerospace engineers than you know.

Prepare for a cosmic tour of the diverse industries and organizations that eagerly hire these brilliant minds:

  • Aerospace Manufacturers
  • Defense and Military
  • Research Institutions
  • Space Exploration Companies
  • Aviation and Airlines
  • Consulting and Engineering Services
  • Space Research and Satellite Companies
  • Government Agencies and Regulatory Bodies
  • Automotive and Transportation
  • Energy and Renewable Resources

Nonetheless, the industry is vast and ever-evolving, offering a universe of exciting career paths and opportunities for those ready to embark on an engineering odyssey. So, keep exploring the possibilities that await you!

Should I become an Aerospace Engineer?

Making a decision as big as this one should not be done lightly. It requires research, planning, and self-reflection. Fortunately, this article has already done the legwork, discussing what aerospace engineers do, opportunities in space, education, and giving insight into their salaries.

However, you need to consider your interests and skills beyond the technical aspects. Are you fascinated by space exploration and aircraft design? Do you have a talent for problem-solving, math, and physics? And most importantly, what are your long-term career goals? Do they align with those in the aerospace industry?

Only once you’ve thoroughly evaluated these factors can you determine if a career as an Aerospace Engineer is the right move for you. So, take your time and make an informed decision.

Careers Related to Aerospace Engineer

Frequently Asked Questions

Do Aerospace Engineers go to space?

No, aerospace engineers do not typically go to space. However, their work on designing and building spacecraft, satellites, missiles, and other advanced aerospace systems helps put humans and payloads into outer space. Some aerospace engineers may have the opportunity to be involved in testing or observing launches of these projects in person.


Which country has the highest Aerospace Engineer salary?

The USA typically pays the highest wages for aerospace engineers, with an average salary of US$122,270. Other countries such as Canada ($95,000), Germany ($85,300), and Australia ($81,500) also offer considerable salaries for experienced Aerospace Engineers. Also, note that salaries can vary depending on experience level and specialty.

What do Aerospace Engineers do?

Aerospace engineers are responsible for designing, developing, testing, and evaluating aircraft, spacecraft, satellites, missiles, propulsion systems, and other related technologies. They use aerodynamic principles to maximize performance while ensuring compliance with safety standards. Aerospace engineers also manage the production process and coordinate with teams of technicians during all stages of product development.



Ajoke Aminu

About the Author

Read more articles by Ajoke Aminu