Aerospace Engineering Information

Aerospace engineers need to get at least a bachelors of science (BS) degree, which takes about four years. Many also have a master of science (MS) degree, and that takes another two years to get. To get a BS in aerospace engineering, students spend the first two years taking basic engineering classes including algebra, calculus, physics, chemistry, and computer programming. The dedicated aerospace classes typically start around the third year and include aerodynamics (the study of how bodies move through the air), structures (studying how different materials react to forces acting on them), propulsion (studying how jet engines and rockets work), performance (figuring out how an airplane or a spacecraft behaves on its journey), and design courses that teach how all those basic concepts go into making a complete aircraft or spacecraft. MS courses are similar, except that you specialize in one of those basic areas (aerodynamics, propulsion, structures, or space flight) and take more advanced courses in that area.

The kinds of projects aerospace engineers get involved in are surprisingly varied. Most aerospace engineers work in one of two main areas--aeronautical engineering or astronautical engineering. Aeronautical engineer work mainly on vehicles like aircraft and missiles. Other types of activities aeronautical engineers work on include designing and analyzing the structures inside aircraft, using computer programming to create automatic flight control systems and autopilots, building and testing rocket motors or jet engines, making flight simulators, conducting wind tunnel tests, and using computers to predict the performance and flight characteristics of aircraft and missiles.

Astronautical engineers usually work on spacecraft-related projects, like satellites or the space shuttle. Things astronautical engineers might do include figuring out what kinds of orbits spacecraft should take around the Earth or other planets, designing the internal structures of a satellite or figuring out what kinds of components it should be made out of, planning future missions into space by robotic probes or people, developing engines and propulsion systems to make space travel faster and safer, designing new rockets and vehicles to carry equipment or people into space, and designing communications systems to maintain contact with satellites or distant space probes.

Aerospace engineers also work in other industries you might not think of. Some use aerodynamics to streamline cars so they are faster and more efficient. Others are involved in robotics or write specialized computer codes to analyze data. Our knowledge of aerodynamics and structures allows some aerospace engineers to get involved in designing buildings or bridges and making sure they can stand up to strong winds. Propulsion specialists may use their knowledge to build new power plants. Aerospace engineers have even experimented with using nuclear engines to propel spacecraft, and may also use this knowledge to benefit the nuclear power industry. A few even use aerodynamics or structures to design better golf balls or tennis rackets in the sporting goods industry. Although most aerospace engineers work for aerospace companies like Boeing, Lockheed Martin, and Pratt & Whitney or government institutions like NASA or the military, many have found jobs in mechanical engineering, the automotive industry, electrical engineering, ship design, civil engineering, and the computer industry.

In answer to your final question, I do like my job. It has good and bad parts, like any other job, but I get the chance to work on a variety of different tasks and know that things I work on could soon be in use. I would encourage young people to become aerospace engineers, especially if you are good in math and science and are curious about how things work. Good creativity is also a useful trait. If you like to think of new ways of doing things and have the ability and dedication to do the analysis to prove whether or not those ways will work, you’ll probably make a very good engineer.
- answer by Jeff Scott, 29 April 2001

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