Aerospace engineers research, design and manufacture aircraft, satellites, missiles and space vehicles. They may be specialist mechanical, electrical or electronics engineers who apply their knowledge to sophisticated products.
They might specialise in:
Airframes - the construction and maintenance of airframes and wings.
Hydraulics - the operation of aircraft controls, ailerons, elevators and flaps.
Engines - piston or gas turbine engines.
Fuel - storage and use of specialist fuels.
Pneumatics - air compression used in jet engines and in aircraft controls.
Avionics - electrical and communication systems.
Materials and structures - investigating and testing new and existing materials for airframes and components. This area is becoming increasingly important with the emphasis on, for example, composites in aircraft design to reduce aircraft weight.
The work of an aerospace engineer could involve:
Research - engineers working in research aim to find new and innovative ways of doing things. They have to solve complex engineering problems caused by weight, altitude, temperature and engine performance, and are particularly concerned with reducing the environmental impact of air travel.
Design - design involves turning ideas into the plans for a product. Design can range from producing a single component to a whole aircraft engine. Aerospace engineers use computer-aided design (CAD) systems to help produce their designs.
Manufacture - this involves manufacturing, modifying and assembling the components that come together to produce an aircraft, missile or satellite.
Aerospace engineers also work on maintaining and improving vast fleets of older aircraft in service throughout the world.
Some aerospace engineers specialise in a particular aspect like thermodynamics, or designing software for aircraft control systems. Some become experts in a particular subject like aerodynamics or propulsion.
Working on aerospace projects involves teams of people so aerospace engineers could be working with many different types of engineer, designer, manufacturer and, of course, the pilots or users of the aircraft.
Aerospace engineers normally work 37 to 40 hours a week. Hours can be considerably longer if there is a project deadline to meet or to fit in with timetables for testing an aircraft. This could involve working evenings and weekends.
Engineers involved in research and design usually work in clean, quiet laboratories and research centres, but all engineers also visit production areas, which may be noisy. They may also have to visit aircraft at airfields to inspect or test aircraft functions.
Engineers may have to travel and spend short periods away from home.
Starting salaries for graduate aerospace engineers are generally between £18,000 and £21,000 a year.
The UK aerospace industry employs over 250,000 people and has an annual turnover of more than £18 billion. More than 85,000 people are working in engineering-related occupations in the aerospace industry, from craft level to senior roles.
There is currently a skills shortage of suitably qualified aerospace engineers.
There are career opportunities for aerospace engineers with aerospace manufacturers and airline operators. Other employers include the Armed Forces, Government departments and agencies, and regulatory authorities like the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), and airports. There are clusters of aerospace companies around the UK, notably in the Midlands, West of England, North West England, Northern Ireland and Eastern England. Their skills are also in demand by manufacturers of other vehicles such as hovercraft, cars and trains.
Voluntary work in sectors such as aircraft heritage museums, airfields and flying clubs can exist for those seeking initial exposure to engineering and other aerospace occupations.
Further information on careers and jobs is available, for example, from the websites of The Royal Aeronautical Society (RAeS) and SCENTA. The recruitment website www.aviationjobsearch.com also advertises vacancies in the aviation industry. More information on jobs with the Armed Forces is available from local Armed Forces careers offices.
Studying for an aeronautical engineering degree is the most usual route into the career and there are many UK universities offering aeronautical engineering based courses. Aeronautical and aerospace engineering degrees involve three years' full-time study for BEng level and four years' full-time study for MEng.
Many degree programmes also include an industrial placement within the UK or overseas.
Entry to a degree course is with at least five GCSE's/S grades (A-C/1-3) and two or three A levels/three or four H grades, normally including maths and a science subject, or equivalent qualifications.
At many universities, students without the necessary background in physics and maths can take a one-year foundation course instead.
Some employers offer sponsorship to students on degree courses. Professional institutions such as the RAeS, Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) and Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE) also run scholarship programmes for part or all of relevant degree programmes.
There are also some opportunities via Foundation degree programmes.
It is possible to begin training for craft or technician-level jobs straight from school with good GCSE's/S grades in English, maths and science (preferably physics), although some Apprenticeship schemes may require candidates to have A levels/H grades, or equivalent, in a science- or engineering-related subject. However, it is more likely that aircraft maintenance engineers/technicians would tend to go through the Apprenticeship or specialist college route. Most aerospace engineers study full time at university or college.
Apprenticeships and Advanced Apprenticeships provide structured training with an employer. As an apprentice you must be paid at least £95 per week; you may well be paid more. A recent survey found that the average wage for apprentices was £170 a week. Your pay will depend on the sector in which you work, your age, the area where you live and the stage at which you have arrived in the Apprenticeship.
Entry to Employment (e2e) can help to prepare those who are not yet ready for an Apprenticeship. In addition, Young Apprenticeships may be available for 14- to 16-year-olds. More information is available from a Connexions personal adviser or at www.apprenticeships.org.uk.
There are different arrangements for Apprenticeships in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Experienced aerospace engineers are usually professionally registered as either Incorporated or Chartered engineers in recognition of the level of experience and qualification achieved.
To qualify as an Incorporated aerospace engineer, individuals should:
The IET offers awards to help women who are studying for Incorporated engineer qualifications.
To qualify as a Chartered aeronautical engineer, individuals should:
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Roustabouts do basic tasks to help keep the rig and platform working efficiently and Roughnecks do practical tasks involved in the drilling operation, under the supervision of the driller.
Aerospace engineers should:
There are opportunities for promotion for aerospace engineers working in both the public and private sector, and the broad skills learnt as an aerospace engineer can be extremely useful in other branches of engineering.
Many experienced engineers move into senior management roles or research and development during their career.
Overseas there are good opportunities with British firms of consulting engineers working for foreign governments, or with overseas aircraft construction companies. A number of aerospace engineers work independently as consultants.
The Engineering Council (ECUK),
246 High Holborn, London WC1V 7EX
Tel: 020 3206 0500
The Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET),
Michael Faraday House, Six Hills Way, Stevenage, Hertfordshire SG1 2AY
Tel: 01438 313311 (Careers Advisory Service)
RAF Careers. Website: www.rafcareers.com
Royal Aeronautical Society (RAeS), 4 Hamilton Place, London W1J 7BQ
Tel: 020 7670 4325/6 (careers centre)
SEMTA (Science, Engineering and Manufacturing Technologies Alliance),
14 Upton Road, Watford, Hertfordshire WD18 0JT
Tel: 01923 238441
For careers in space, visit:
The British National Space Centre (BNSC) website at www.spacecentre.co.uk/
The European Space Agency (ESA) at www.esa.int
NASA at www.nasa.gov
Additional resources for job seekers and those already in a job.