A career in aerospace engineering will see you working with cutting-edge technology and international companies
As an aerospace engineer you’ll research, design, develop, maintain and test the performance of:
- civil and military aircraft
- space vehicles
- weapons systems.
Work is also carried out on the different components that make up the aircraft and systems. In some companies you may be known as an aeronautical engineer.
You’ll be concerned with improving flight safety, fuel efficiency, speed and weight, as well as reducing system costs and using developing technologies to meet customer needs. The role increasingly addresses the environmental impact of air travel.
What do aerospace engineers do?
Types of aerospace engineer
As an engineer in the aerospace sector, you can specialise in specific area such as:
- aerodynamics: As an aerodynamics specialist engineer, you will have the specialist skills to test aerospace designs, such as aircraft bodies and propulsion systems, to ensure they meet all aerodynamic specifications and conform to the physical laws of aerodynamics. You may wish to pursue a career as part of a conceptual design team involved in the detail design of new aircraft, or other opportunities including flight testing or any number of computational fluid dynamics (CFD) analysis roles.
- avionics: avionics refers to the electrical equipment used in missiles, aircraft, and spacecraft. As an avionics engineer, you will help with the installation and servicing of avionics communications equipment and make sure that these systems comply with requirements and manufacturer’s specifications. You will design, purchase, test, and calibrate computer and electronic communication panels.
- materials and structures: it’s the structures and materials engineer’s role to deal with the analysis and design of structures that support or resist loads. Engineers in this area work with the latest materials such as composites of various existing materials and light weight but tough carbon fibre, previously the reserve of military aircraft but now found on even the largest passenger aircraft, to provide strong but effective engineered solutions.
- propulsion: propulsion engineers aim to improve the performance and reliability of rocket motors, jet engines, and compressors. These engineers design propulsion systems and parts such as propellant systems, engines, pumps, pressurization tanks, and control systems.
- systems integration: system integration engineers are responsible for the development and testing of control systems for engines using digital electronics and communications. They evaluate and test engine calibrations with software for real-time embedded systems using model-based software development tools.
Key skills and qualifications
Tasks and responsibilities vary depending on your specialist area and employer, but you may be required to:
- apply the principles of science and technology to create aircraft, components and support equipment
- research and develop design specifications and use computer-aided design (CAD) software to create plans
- supervise the assembly of airframes and the installation of engines, instruments and other equipment
- take part in flight-test programmes to measure take-off distances, rate of climb, stall speeds, maneuverability and landing capacities
- resolve issues that arise during the design, development and testing processes
- maintain aircraft for full operation including making regular inspections, maintenance, repairs and servicing
- measure and improve the performance of aircraft, components and systems
- modify designs to improve safety features or minimise fuel consumption and pollution
What Qualifications & Skills will I need to become an Aerospace Engineer?
Degrees are available in aeronautical or aerospace engineering, but employers may accept relevant subjects such as:
- computer science or software engineering
- electrical and electronic engineering
- mechanical engineering
- physics or applied physics
- production or manufacturing engineering
- space-related courses.
Many large aerospace companies offer graduate training schemes in the engineering field and require a good degree, usually a 2.1 or above. Entry with a HND only is not possible for these programmes.
In terms of skills, you will need to demonstrate strong technical knowledge of aerospace systems and manufacturing, the ability to think creatively and be innovative, particularly when developing designs, problem-solving and analytical skills for dealing with repairs, meticulous attention to detail and a methodical approach to work, communication and teamworking skills when dealing with colleagues as well as the ability to work to deadlines with self-motivation.
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.
Aerospace Engineering – Level 6 (equivalent to bachelor’s degree)
Aerospace Software Development Engineer – Level 6 (equivalent to bachelor’s degree)
What are My Career Prospects as an Aerospace Engineer?
There are many opportunities for career development in the aerospace industry. For example, you may move into a senior engineering position, where you oversee the work within your department or undertake a project management role.
It’s also possible to specialise in areas such as aerodynamics, propulsion or avionics. You could choose to move into a different area of aviation, such as a commercial role in sales, training or lecturing.
The aerospace industry has a strong track record of investing in its workforce through funding and supporting employee training, as well as encouraging membership of relevant engineering institutions such as: Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE) and RAeS.
The UK aerospace sector is well established and dominated by large multinationals that produce a range of products in locations across the world. Manufacturing ‘hubs’ are in the South West, North West, Midlands, Northern Ireland, Wales and the South East.
Apart from aircraft manufacturers, opportunities exist with regulators such as the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), the armed forces, government research agencies, the Ministry of Defence, airline companies, space programmes and suppliers of raw materials and parts to manufacturers.
Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) have a range of opportunities, from engineering to commercial and managerial roles within sales, finance and IT.
What can I expect to earn as an aerospace engineer?
Starting salaries for aerospace engineers range from £20,000 to £28,000. With experience this can rise to between £28,000 and £40,000, depending on the level of your expertise. At senior levels, particularly if you gain chartered status, you can expect a salary of £45,000 to £60,000+.