What Aeronautical Engineers Do
Aeronautical engineers specialize in the research, development, and operations surrounding aircraft. In addition to designing and manufacturing aircraft and related products, these engineers test demo products to ensure company standards are met. Most engineers work on civilian aircraft, improving safety and efficiency along with researching sustainability and ways to reduce waste. They may also work for the government and/or military overseeing research programs based in national defense.
Aeronautical engineers usually work on teams and are responsible for project management. This includes setting schedules and deadlines for projects, estimating costs and liability, and communicating with clients. They often train new staff and supervise teams in addition to coordinating projects with other departments. Overall they are responsible for ensuring product quality, safety, function, and efficiency. Aeronautical engineers are often grouped with astronautical engineers, who primarily focus on the technology and development of spacecraft. Though dealing with different environments, both careers require similar responsibilities and may often overlap.
Who would enjoy a career in Aeronautical / Mechancial Engineering?
Aeronautical engineers must be excellent team players. They are responsible for leading peers and overseeing projects to success and must be committed to doing so. People in this field are responsible for staying up to date with the latest technology; active learners and naturally curious people will find this easier than others. Successful engineers are also great communicators, both in oral communication to teams and written communication for clients, such as instruction manuals.
This career is good for people who find meeting tough deadlines both challenging and satisfying, since much of the work requires an intense schedule and flexibility to see projects through to completion. Aeronautical engineers are naturally innovative and creative, often with a passion for science and its power to better society.
Who mightn't like the career?
Engineering careers can vary drastically from day to day. Successful employees often work long hours to meet deadlines, so those expecting a more structured schedule may be disappointed with this career. Aeronautical engineers may also work with high authority clients, such as government officials or military personnel. Those who shy away from intense pressure and highly professional environments may have a hard time adjusting to these demands. Continued learning is another expectation for engineers; this career is not for people who don’t wish to stay constantly on top of trends and technologies.
Aeronautical engineers must hold a bachelor’s degree in engineering or a related technical field. Depending on the college or university, student engineers may qualify to work with local companies and gain practical knowledge and experience; relevant experience is usually required even for entry-level positions, ideally in fields such as aerodynamics or other aerospace focuses.
Master’s degrees are not always necessary but often preferred by employers. For teaching or research positions, master’s degrees are required. Stanford University is an example of a university that provides a coterminal master’s degree, which awards a bachelor’s and master’s degree at the same time. Just like other engineering programs, aeronautical programs are accredited by ABET. Engineers looking to work for the government or on any projects related to national defense may need a security clearance; U.S. citizenship is often a requirement for certain levels of clearance.
United States: Though licensure is required for many other engineering positions, it is not always necessary for aeronautical careers or required for entry-level positions. For those desiring more independence in their career or a higher role of leadership, a professional engineer (PE) license can be acquired at any time. This allows an engineer to provide services directly to the public. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, engineers in the U.S. can obtain their Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam after obtaining a bachelor’s degree. After meeting the requirements for continued work experience, engineers can take the Principles and Practice of Engineering exam. Licensure is issued by state.
Canada: Obtaining licensure in Canada is similar to the process in the United States. Professional Publications, Inc. (PPI) states that all undergraduate engineering programs in Canada are accredited by the Canadian Engineering Accreditation Board (CEAB), an organization similar to ABET. Graduates from these programs automatically qualify to apply for their licensure. Before the license is obtained, graduates must complete relevant work experience, show letters of reference, and pass an exam.
United Kingdom: Becoming a professional engineer, or “chartered engineer,” in the UK requires a 3-4 year internship after graduation. Based on information from PPI, graduates must apply via written essay to their desired engineering institution only after this work experience is completed. After the interviewing process, applicants are put through a series of exams before being accepted into the institution.
Australia: According to PPI, Australia is part of a 1989 agreement that recognizes the similar accreditation processes of six nations: Australia, Canada, Ireland, New Zealand, United Kingdom, and South Africa. In other words, getting accredited to be a professional mechanical engineer in Australia quite closely resembles the processes for doing so in the UK and Canada.
Preparation is crucial when applying for aeronautical engineer positions. Because of the intensity of the career and its sometimes stressful demands, employers are looking for resilient, motivated, and experienced individuals. For entry-level positions, having work experience via an internship or fieldwork during higher education stands out. Research programs with university faculty and professionals can simultaneously prepare students for the workforce and provide reliable references and connections.
Moving into Aeronautical / Mechancial Engineering from another career
Aeronautical engineering is a competitive industry that is projected to grow. Because there is a focus on sustainability and aircraft effect on the environment, there is a continued demand for engineers to conduct research and make improvements.
There is also increased demand for using aeronautical technology for domestic purposes, making it more accessible to consumers. Employees currently working in other fields of engineering may be attracted to aeronautics because of its rapidly changing environment and the ever expanding technology involved in aircraft. It may also be a great career change for those hoping to make connections in government and use their experience to influence change in society. Engineers of other fields, software developers, and those experienced with coding or architectural programs have a head start on transitioning into aeronautics. For more information, see: “ Why Study Aeronautics.”
Role: Because relevant experience is extremely valuable even for entry-level aeronautical engineering positions, graduate students are encouraged to participate in research programs or internships. This can involve working closely with faculty members and professionals on advanced research projects funded by the university, or being placed into internships at regional companies to shadow engineers in their day-to-day work lives. Stanford University provides one such research program in the summer for students.
Role: Aeronautical engineers have a variety of responsibilities that can vary from one work environment to the next. Typically, engineers are responsible for coordinating the design, development, and testing of aircraft and related products. When testing products, engineers ensure that they are up to par per company standards and customer values. They work with their teams to assess the need for new products, considering both cost and feasibility.
Depending on the job and its need for customer service, engineers may be responsible for communicating directly with clients. As they progress in their career, engineers may specialize in a particular area of aeronautics, such as structural design, navigation, communication, or specializing in specific forms of aircraft.
Aeronautical Engineering Manager
Role: Experienced engineers may get promoted to management positions. This is often the time when employees seek out licensure to become a PE. In addition to becoming a certified professional engineer, aeronautics managers may supervise larger teams of engineers and be a part of hiring processes, project planning, and budget proposals on a larger scale. People in management positions may also focus intensely on their specialized field and become an expert within their company to advise others.
Aeronautical engineers may travel in their careers, depending on their positions. Those in government or military branches are likely to travel.
Entry-Level (0-5 years): Data from PayScale reports that entry-level salaries average USD$72,000 in the United States, £30,000 in the United Kingdom, CAD$61,000 in Canada, and AU$76,000 in Australia. Pay in Australia can range from AU$50,000 to $110,000 but reports show that people generally don’t stay in the career longer than 10 years, so there are likely few cases of salaries increasing much over the average.
Mid-Career (5-10 years): USD$88,000, £40,000, CAD$79,000, AU$78,000.
Experienced (10-20 years): USD$101,000, £46,000, CAD$81,000, AU$78,000.
Late-Career (20+ years): USD$123,000, £47,000, CAD$91,000, AU$78,000.
Bonuses and commission may apply in certain positions, though the amount varies greatly by employer.
Why Aeronautical Engineers move on
Leaving an aeronautical engineer can be overwhelming after years of specialized experience. However, there are plenty of options for engineers looking to either take their careers to a new level or switch paths completely. Their deep quantitative and technical skill sets make transitions to a variety of paths possible.
If engineers desire more authority and leadership roles than they have been able to get moving up the ladder in their respective companies, applying for government jobs such as NASA in for US-based engineers can be an exciting and fulfilling path to take. These jobs generally require many years of experience and high security clearances. When leaving aeronautics completely, engineers can use their field experience and obtain the proper licenses needed to become a professor.
This is often a satisfying change of pace because it allows for a better work life balance, which is often necessary after years of long hours and intense pressures that can leave people feeling burnt out. It can often be rewarding to move from a corporate environment into an academic one. For more information, read “Why I Left My Stem Career” and “Why Quitting My Engineering Career Was the Best Decision.”