- 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.
- If I graduate college with a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering, can I attend graduate school in
- 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.
- 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.
- What type of training does it take to become a metallurgist and how are they employed by the
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!
- 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
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.