Aerospace Engineering 5


  1. On average, how much does an aerospace engineer make in a year?
    - question from Pete Sustaita, Erick Meiner & Kassie Branson
    What is the highest salary an aerospace engineer can get?
    - question from Moe
    How much do you guys make?
    - question from Ryan Slaubaugh & Steve
    My, we certainly have a lot of folks who just want to cut to the bottom line! According to the US Dept. of Labor, the median annual income of an aerospace engineer in 2001 was $70,400. This salary ranked 32 out of the top 50 highest paying occupations requiring a bachelors degree or higher. The median annual salaries for engineers in general tend to be in the $60,000 to $80,000 range, so aerospace engineers rank roughly in the middle of the pack. You're not going to get filthy rich in this field (if you want to do that, go into the medical profession!), but you can certainly live a comfortable lifestyle. I can't quote any maximum salary, but I'd guess it's probably in the range of $150,000 per year or so for an experienced, senior engineer.

    As for what we make, that's like a asking a woman how much she weighs. It's none of your business! In all seriousness though, our staff members probably average a bit higher than the median income quoted above, and most of us have been in the field for no more than five years.

  2. If I graduate college with a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering, can I attend graduate school in aeronautical engineering?
    - question from Eroz
    Can a mechanical engineering graduate work in the aircraft industry?
    - question from name withheld
    Aerospace engineering is essentially a specialization of mechanical engineering. In particular, aerodynamics and propulsion are a specialization of the fluid dynamics option available in many mechanical engineering programs. As a result, mechanical engineers usually have little trouble transitioning to course work in the aerospace field. It is therefore quite common for someone with a bachelors degree in mechanical engineering to pursue an advanced degree in aerospace.

    Likewise, mechanical engineers are quite common in the aircraft industry. While aeronautical engineers tend to be experts in designing the overall layout of an aircraft, it is mechanical engineers who most often do the detailed design work to put those concepts into practice. For example, an aerospace engineer may design a shape for a wing to achieve aerodynamic efficiency, but a mechanical engineer would determine where the various structural components need to be in order to build that wing and connect it to the fuselage. MEs also typically complete official drawings used on the assembly line telling the workers how to put the aircraft together.

  3. I'm very interested in becoming an aerospace engineer. However, I'm much more interested in spacecraft than airplanes. Is there such an option? Is it true that aerospace engineers get to do computer programming (which I enjoy) and even help design space missions?
    - question from Jose
    Yes, aerospace engineers do indeed work on spacecraft, hence the term aeroSPACE. Aerospace engineering is a somewhat vague term that covers two major fields--aeronautical engineering and astronautical engineering. While aeronautical engineers work primarily on aircraft or other vehicles that operate within an atmosphere, astronautical engineers focus on designing vehicles that operate in space. They are most often employed by companies that build satellites, space probes, and manned spacecraft or by government institutions like NASA.

    Many of these engineers also design space missions, a job usually referred to as space mission planning. Mission planning involves tasks such as selecting the best launch vehicle, determining when the flight should be launched in order to reach the destination at the right time, analyzing possible trajectories and selecting the most efficient route, and deciding what equipment or personnel should be included on the spacecraft to perform the mission.

    Computer programming is also a skill that many aerospace engineers need to master, whether they work on aircraft or spacecraft. In general, most engineers working in an analytical environment need to be able to write computer programs to manipulate data or calculate complex equations in order to analyze the results of their work.

  4. What type of training does it take to become a metallurgist and how are they employed by the aerospace industry?
    - question from Brent
    None of us are experts on the details of metallurgy, but most of the people we know who work in that field have degrees in Materials Science. Materials science covers many disciplines, including the behaviors of metals, ceramics, composites, polymers, and other substances out of which items are constructed. The early college coursework tends to focus on advanced mathematics such as calculus as well as chemistry and physics. As they begin to focus on the materials science field, they emphasize how different materials behave under different conditions. Examples include the electronic, thermodynamic, mechanical, and chemical properties of materials, their internal structures, how they are processed or created, and methods of optimizing their behaviors for different applications. Many engineering schools offer a curriculum in materials science, and it typically takes 4 to 5 years to complete a bachelor of science degree.

    Materials scientists and metallurgists are employed throughout the aerospace industry. Most manufacturers hire materials scientists to develop and analyze the substances best suited to use in certain applications on flying vehicles. Some examples include selecting substances to withstand the high temperatures experienced in a jet engine or rocket motor, developing high-strength composite materials for use in aircraft wings, and analyzing the properties of structural components under repeated flight cycles to determine the fatigue life of a vehicle before it begins to fail. Materials scientists are also employed by government and military institutions to oversee manufacturers and ensure that the materials used to build aircraft or other vehicles will be able to withstand the stresses expected over their lives.

  5. Is it really like what people say, that engineering is a male-dominated field in which there are very few female engineers?
    - question from Melonie
    What are the statistics like for women wanting a career in aeronautical engineering?
    - question from Beta
    In the past, it is true that engineering has typically attracted far more males then females. Though more males still tend to pursue careers in engineering than females, there are definitely more women entering the field now than ever before. I'd estimate that women probably account for about a third of engineers in most places that I've worked, and often times up to half of the work force in some areas. This same trend is also becoming apparent in college enrollments where women students are becoming increasingly common in aerospace engineering programs. When I graduated from college 10 years ago, it was typical for a class of 40 to 50 to contain maybe four or five women. A class of comparable size today is often made up of 15 or 20 female graduates.
  6. I read on a website that normal color vision may be required to be an aerospace engineer. I have a color deficiency, does this cause any problems?
    - question from Greg
    I think you may be confusing aerospace engineering with being a pilot. Pilots are often required to have 20/20 vision or better, and color blindness may well be a restriction as well. There are no such limitations on aerospace engineers. My vision is awful, and I have partial color blindness, but neither has been any detriment to my career as an aerospace engineer. There are no vision tests in this field!
  7. I want to be an astronaut and wondered what's the best way to get started in this field? How much college education does it require? If I had degrees and everything in order to be an aerospace engineer, would I be able to switch to an astronaut without tons of extra schooling?
    - question from name withheld
    There actually is no special education needed to become an astronaut--there is no "astronaut degree" one can earn in college. That is not to say that astronauts are uneducated. Quite the contrary, most have obtained degrees in some technical field. The majority of astronauts come from the military, particularly from the ranks of test pilots. Many others were experts in some engineering or research field who worked in academia or the private sector. Once accepted into the astronaut corps by NASA, they completed additional training to become qualified for space missions.

    In summation, there are no additional educational requirements to become an astronaut beyond a traditional degree in some scientific or engineering field. What sets astronauts apart is their experiences outside of school, whether those be military qualifications or contributions made in advancing scientific knowledge. Read through the biographies at the NASA Astronaut Office to get a better feel for the typical backgrounds of astronauts.


- answer by Joe Yoon
- answer by Molly Swanson
- answer by Jeff Scott, 26 October 2003


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