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Aerospace Engineering

Did you know that the UK aerospace industry is second only to that of the USA and owns some of world’s largest aerospace companies?

Modern aircraft, spacecraft and satellites are so complex that it is usually too expensive for one country to produce a product on its own, so international partnerships have become crucial  and international companies have been attracted to the UK due to the vast expertise that has been built up over the years. Therefore the UK continues to contribute highly advanced engineering systems on most global aerospace projects. There are opportunities to work in both UK-owned and internationally-owned aerospace firms and there are also hundreds of smaller engineering companies (known as SMEs, Small and Medium-sized enterprises). In total, SEMTA recently estimated around 780 UK companies in aerospace engineering. 

Key UK aerospace manufacturing ‘hotspots’ are: the South West, Midlands, North West, Northern Ireland, South East and Wales.

What do aerospace engineers do?

Aerospace engineers are usually seen as experts in the design, manufacture and innovation of existing and new aerospace components. Many join a large aerospace manufacturer following university and rotate around several departments aiming to specialise in a particular field of engineering.

Specialist areas include: aerodynamics, stress engineering, materials and structures, fuel systems, avionics, flight test, flight simulation, sustainable aircraft design, landing gear, helicopters, satellite design, spacecraft .. the list goes on. Overall, aerospace engineers will be working to improve fuel efficiency, safety, speed, weight, incorporate new technologies, meet changing customer needs, or even create new needs, such as space tourism! Many aerospace technologies are transferred to other industries, notably automobile, but also increasingly in the low carbon sector.

Key skills and qualifications

• Innovation, teamwork, communication, analytical and problem-solving skills
• A strong background in maths and physics, such as A Levels/Scottish Highers (or equivalent)
• A relevant degree in aerospace or aeronautical engineering, and possibly a postgraduate qualification.

Graduate Schemes

Most major aerospace companies run graduate schemes. Schemes usually start in September each year, but recruitment is usually one year before, so most places are filled by early Spring. During the graduate programme, trainees will usually rotate through several relevant departments, getting a feel for how the business and engineering departments operate, possibly with a placement in an overseas location or partner company before moving into a more specialist role following the programme.

Smaller companies (SMEs) may offer graduate level roles which offer a more specialist route with a lot of 'on-the-job' training directly alongside more senior engineers.

There is a lot of competition for graduate jobs, and large firms often use online application forms as the first stage in the recruitment process with a series of questions focussing on your soft skills as well as your technical knowledge. More help on these is available in our Career Resource section. Smaller companies usually ask for CV and covering letters.


Aerospace manufacturing also offers exciting roles for those who prefer to be more hands-on. You can become highly skilled in building the airframes or other components such as the landing gear, engines or electrical systems that make up the aircraft.

Apprenticeships are the traditional route to hands-on engineering roles. You gain practical experience of the manufacturing process with support from the employer to complete college studies in preparation for qualifications such as foundation degrees and/or Higher National Certificate and Higher Level Vocational Qualification levels. All this, and you get paid to learn as well! Find out more on our Apprenticeships page.

Career Development

Over time, you can move on to Senior Engineering roles overseeing developments within your department, or moving across to project management positions overseeing the full integration of internal and external components for the finished product. You could specialise in manufacturing processes or quality assurance, or even move into commercial roles in sales, customer care and eventually move up through the organisation into senior management roles. Professional development is strongly supported by engineering employers, with much support for further learning and qualifications, and registration to become an Incorporated or Chartered Engineer, recognising your skills and achievements.

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Case Study

Robert Denton

Design Engineer, Messier-Dowty

I was inspired by the commanding officer of my Air Cadet unit to get into Engineering and looked into some work experience placements where my Dad worked - Messier-Dowty.  I really enjoyed the experience and decided that I wanted to get involved with design engineering.  That said I also knew that I wanted to push myself academically towards a degree.

Having investigated my options between studying at university and completing an apprenticeship I decided that the apprenticeship was definitely the way to go considering the experience I would gain. I started with Messier-Dowty in August 2006 as a ‘technical apprentice’ and completed a number of academic and practical qualifications over the four year period.  I went on to complete my apprenticeship in March 2010 and during my time I was awarded First Place at ‘Apprentice of the Year’ for the First Year Apprentice for the Central Region of the South West of England. I have now started a part-time BEng (Hons) Degree in Mechanical Engineering at the University of West England (UWE), all-sponsored by Messier-Dowty.

My current role is on the Regional and Military Engineering Team where my work focuses on in-service issues and repairs to existing programs and also some development of the Nimrod MRA4 Operation Load Management Gear.

My career aspiration has always been to achieve a degree in engineering, with the Royal Air Force in mind as a final goal. That said, I got involved with the Air Cadets as a member of staff so I’ve ticked that box and work always keeps me busy! My advice for young people – find something that really interests you and is a realistic goal to achieve. Find out what you would need to do to get a job in that area and then push yourself to your limit to achieve it. Its hard work and not always fun but it’s absolutely worth it!

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Robert Denton :: Design Engineer, Messier-Dowty Robert Denton :: Design Engineer, Messier-Dowty Robert Denton :: Design Engineer, Messier-Dowty Robert Denton :: Design Engineer, Messier-Dowty

Lucy Callaway

Technical Apprentice, Messier-Dowty

I was inspired to follow a career in engineering after being a member of the air training corps, taking Design Technology at GCSE level and following my father’s career as an Engineer within the Royal Air Force.

As part of my apprenticeship I have studied:

• NVQ Level 2 in Performing Engineering Operations which involved learning basic machining skills on lathes, mills, CNC machines and hand tool skills.
• BTEC National Certificate in Manufacturing Engineering which is theory based training learning subjects such as Engineering drawing, business management, mechanical principles, maths and manufacturing processes.
• Key skills in Working with Others and Improving own learning and Performance.

I am now in the fourth and final year of my apprenticeship where I am completing an NVQ level 3 by completing a series of work-based projects and a HNC in Mechanical Engineering at Worcester College of Technology. As part of my training I also took part in team-building exercises with the other apprentices at Messier-Dowty. This involved staying in log cabins at a lake for three nights and doing activities such as raft building, canoeing and air softing. I attend careers fairs at schools within the local area to help encourage other young people into following an engineering career.

I have completed various placements within the company during my apprenticeship including manufacturing, production planning, customer services and procurement, each one lasting 3-6 months.  Throughout my training I have had lots of support from my training adviser at Avon Vale Training, supervisors within the company and my HR manager.

My career aspirations include further training to achieve a degree in Mechanical Engineering and incorporating these skills into lean sigma and continuous improvement activities within the business.

I would advise any young person wishing to follow a career in Engineering to consider an Apprenticeship where you can gain ‘hands on’ training through NVQs and technical qualifications, experience working within an engineering company and get paid.

I have found my training as an engineering apprentice challenging and interesting and look forward to furthering my career within the engineering sector.

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Lucy Callaway :: Technical Apprentice, Messier-Dowty Lucy Callaway :: Technical Apprentice, Messier-Dowty Lucy Callaway :: Technical Apprentice, Messier-Dowty Lucy Callaway :: Technical Apprentice, Messier-Dowty

Laura Creek

Engineering Graduate, AgustaWestland

I joined the AgustaWestland Graduate Development Programme after graduating from the University of Cambridge in 2009 with an MEng in Engineering.

I have now completed my first year during which I have had placements in two very different departments, both of which have provided me with challenging and rewarding tasks. These placements have given me the opportunity to apply the knowledge I gained at university to real-world problems, as well as developing and broadening my knowledge of rotorcraft engineering and the company as a whole.

I am also working towards becoming a Chartered Engineer for which I have been assigned a mentor. This involves regular meetings to discuss placement opportunities and to assess my progress. The Graduate Development Programme is greatly helping me work towards Chartership because of the wide range of opportunities that are available to me.

AgustaWestland is an exciting place to work, providing many opportunities to develop as a professional.

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Laura Creek  :: Engineering Graduate, AgustaWestland Laura Creek  :: Engineering Graduate, AgustaWestland

Joe Muckle

Production Engineer

I joined SELEX Galileo straight after leaving school, so to carry on learning and getting paid for it was a great motivation for me. I undertook a Performing Engineering Operations (PEO) in my first year at college and also completed my first year of my National Certificate (NC).

Since I joined the company ‘full time’ in my second year I have been in two placements, these were Production Engineering within the Machined Components Centre (MCC) and the Design Office. Luckily for me while I was in MCC I was asked to complete my apprenticeship as a production Engineer.

I have now been working in the Production Engineering Department for nearly a year and a half now; I have learnt so much and gained some very valuable experience. I have worked on numerous projects including C130, LMS and Eclipse. My main role is CNC programming but I also deal with technical support, quality issues, manufacturing methods and a lot more.

I have now completed my ‘NC’; I am currently undertaking a Higher National Certificate (HNC), an NVQ level 3 and Level 3 key skills. This is without mentioning the many training courses I have been on through my department to bring my skill level up to that of a fully qualified Production Engineer.

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Rebecca Dingle

Industrial Designer

I joined SELEX Galileo in 2009 for a three-month summer placement following my first year at University studying Industrial Design. I applied for a Mechanical Engineering internship because I wanted to relate my design skills to real product situations. In my first year I worked with hardware engineers to redesign the casings for sensor nodes, which focussed on improving the ergonomics of the overall product. This project allowed me to improve my CAD skills and gave me experience of rapid prototyping. I am currently on my second summer placement at SELEX Galileo, where I am working on 3D concept visualisations for use in presentations, further improving my CAD skills and creating the opportunity to use different 3D software.

My degree enables me to look at a product’s function from a users perspective, linking engineering with user centred, aesthetic based design.

Working for SELEX Galileo has given me an insight into mechanical engineering, strengthening the skills I need at Loughborough University. It has provided me with a great advantage, enabling me to achieve a 2.1 for the second year of my degree. The opportunity to work in team and present my own ideas has improved my confidence, and when I returned to University for my second year I was voted Student Committee Chair of my Department. 

My experience at SELEX Galileo has given me the technical skills to create designs for manufacture, developing my sketch ideas into real products. I will use these new skills in the final year of my degree where I hope to complete a design task with SELEX Galileo for my major project.

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Bart Borczuch

Programme Support Specialist

My interest in aerospace started when I was still in primary school and was taken by my father to one of the air show that was taking place in my home town. This was my very first experience that gave me a good feel of what this industry is about. I will never forget this feeling and excitement that seeing various planes in action provided me with. The interest was further developed when I started my placement year for Flight Simulation Company. Being involved in every part of the business and having tasted flying in a simulator, made me realise this is the industry I would like to work in. 

My role involves supporting senior programme managers on high value programmes and managing my own programmes that involve smaller investments. A typical day involves working with various project teams on programmes such as Transportable Black Hawk Operations Simulator (T-BOS), MH-60R Tactical Operational Flight Trainer (TOFT) or Digital Projection Monitor System (DPM) for Tornado simulator. I am the middle man between the project team and a customer. In general during such projects I am responsible for delivering a visual display system to the customer which has to be delivered on time and within budget. Occasionally I do get an opportunity to travel to various sites, where I get to fly on fully developed aircraft simulators.

First I completed my A levels in mathematics and physics which gave a good background for working in the aerospace industry. Then I finished Economics course and next went on to a BA (Hons) in Business Studies at university. In near future I am planning to complete a Master degree in Project Management.  

Aerospace is an amazing industry. Everyday is different and there is always a challenge waiting for me. This keeps me motivated and helps me to work to my best. Such wide industry gives also endless possibilities for my career development. A fast developing technology makes it very interesting as there is always a new development in pipe line and I am one of the first to witness those technical innovations. The work can be sometimes hard and requires full involvement but this pays off when you see the full simulator assembled and integrated.

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