17 June 2024

What is an Aerospace Engineer?

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Have you ever looked up at an aeroplane and thought you could design one? Or do you have a healthy obsession with satellites or rockets? Aerospace engineering is the career for you.

While you probably won’t be sent into space to intercept an alien race heading for Earth (so sorry, Will), you’ll design and build some of the most important aircrafts and satellites with multiple uses, whether travel or defence.

Read on to learn more about what they do and how you can start a career as an aerospace engineer.

What is aerospace engineering?

If you’ve ever heard the expression ‘it’s not rocket science, you know’, this is! Aerospace engineering is a relatively modern branch of engineering that deals with the design and building of machines and crafts that fly or exist within the Earth’s atmosphere, including;

  • Aeroplanes
  • Gliders
  • Helicopters
  • Jets
  • Spacesuits
  • Satellites
  • Weather prediction machines.

Types of Aerospace Engineering

While you’ll have a wide range of knowledge and expertise in aerospace engineering, there is plenty of opportunity to specialise. 

Aeronautical. These engineers focus their efforts on building and designing aeroplanes and rocket ships.

Astronautical. Here, engineers deal with the design, testing and development of spacecrafts.

Avionics. As an avionics engineer, you’ll design, test and maintain electrical systems found within aircraft.

Mechanical. These engineers focus solely on the mechanical aspects of aircraft design, usually engines.

What does an aerospace engineer do?

So now that you know what aerospace engineering is, what does an aerospace engineer do, and what does the typical day-to-day look like? Let’s get into it.

As an aerospace engineer, you design, build, and maintain various aircraft types. You’ll wear many hats, including developing parts and components, improving flight safety, and maximising fuel efficiency.

Meet Kat Voltage, a NASA engineer. In this video, she talks about her role and what it’s like to work for NASA.

Aerospace engineer responsibilities

The role is exciting on many levels. There’s no such thing as a dull day at the office in this job, as you’ll have several projects on the go. Your day-to-day responsibilities will vary, but some of them will include,

  • Designing aircraft and propulsion systems
  • Testing new designs to see if they meet customer requirements and safety standards
  • Developing criteria for design methods
  • Ensuring projects meet quality standards
  • Inspecting malfunctioning or damaged products to identify sources of problems and possible solutions
  • Investigating aircraft accidents
  • Assessing the cost and reliability of projects.

How do I become an aerospace engineer?

Several routes are available to help you realise your dream of building a real-life USS Enterprise. Let’s look at what these are.

University degree

Having a degree will be a huge help, and there are loads of various subjects that’ll start you on your aerospace engineering path. Some of these include;

  • Aeronautics
  • Aerospace engineering
  • Computing
  • Design technology
  • Mathematics
  • Physics.

Employers usually ask for a 2:1 in aerospace engineering or a similar degree when you start looking for graduate or other roles.

Some aerospace engineering courses are accredited by the Royal Aeronautical Society (RAeS), meaning you could work towards Chartered Engineering status during your career, giving you a considerable edge over others in your field.

If you’re not on an accredited course, you can still be a member of the RAeS. Membership is free for students if you’re in full-time education and intend on a career in aerospace. Some benefits include;

  • Access to online training and podcasts
  • One-to-one career guidance
  • Help with CV and interview prep
  • Dedicated scholarships, medals and award schemes
  • Show off your membership on your LinkedIn profile.

If you’re studying and looking to gain some aerospace experience, the best way to do this is through an internship or placement. Read on to find out more.

Work experience

Why is work experience just so damn good? That’s a great question. Around 49% of students who take on a placement or internship are rehired by their employer. So it’s worth the effort to find one.

Getting work experience before you graduate will give you considerable bragging rights with employers. It will also look fantastic on your CV, and you’ll have extra cadet points over the competition.

Many employers are always looking for talented students like you to join them. Here are a few that offer aerospace engineering work experience.

One of the world’s leading companies in space and aviation, Airbus provides the best in aerospace, defence, and connected services. They also run internships for students all over the world across several sectors, including;

  • Engineering
  • Finance
  • HR
  • IT
  • Manufacturing
  • Marketing
  • PR
  • Supply chain

“At Airbus, the atmosphere buzzes with innovation and collaboration. Teams united by a shared passion for aerospace excellence work seamlessly to tackle challenges. Open communication fosters creativity, nurturing talents and fostering a purposeful environment.”

Engineering Intern, Airbus.

With a skilled workforce of over 93,000 people in around 40 countries, BAE Systems offers many work experience opportunities for students, including budding aerospace engineers.

“I very much enjoyed my Placement at BAE Systems in the Air Sector. Throughout the year I was able to experience a number of areas within engineering as the year-long industrial placement gives you the opportunity to take up three roles across the year. As the placement allowed me to change roles it meant that I was able to gauge what role I enjoyed most and what sort of discipline I would want to work in within the future.”

Aerospace Engineer, BAE Systems.

Want to know more about what aerospace engineering is like? Have a read of our expertly written student reviews.

What skills do aerospace engineers need?

To become the best aerospace engineer, you will need some skills. There are a ton of skills that you’ll already have and technical skills you’ll develop during your degree and work experience. Let’s have a look at some of these skills.

Soft SkillsHard Skills
Analytics. As an engineer, you’ll be presented with loads of data and experiments; your job is to read and sort through.Aerodynamics. For those who didn’t pay attention in science class, this is the study of how air moves and how objects affect this motion. It’s the very basics of aerospace engineering.
Communication. You’ll work in teams, answer to clients and managers, and write reports, so your written and verbal skills must be in tip-top shape.Flight mechanics. If aerodynamics is the basics, flight mechanics is the how. Think of this as the research stage before aircraft building takes place.
Working under pressure. You’ll work on several projects and have considerable deadlines, so you must know how to keep calm under pressure.Aircraft design. You’ll create, design, and develop an aircraft and its components here.
Problem-solving. The field is full of experiments and equations, and things can go wrong, so your problem-solving skills will be helpful when issues arise (or before they do!)Avionics. This is the design, repair and maintenance of electronic systems used on aircrafts.

Are you looking to develop your skills? Here are eight skills you can pick up while at university.

How much do aerospace engineers get paid?

How much you earn as an aerospace engineer depends on various factors. This can be anything from level to years of experience.

If you’re at the work experience level, you could earn between £19,500 and £25,000 per year if you’re on an aerospace engineering placement, pro rata if you’re an intern.

Starting salaries range between £27,000 and £35,000 per year, and they can rise to up to £60,000+ per year as your expertise grows and you level up within your field.

If you’re ready to leap lightyears into a career in aerospace engineering or any other engineering role, we’ve got you covered.