Aerospace Engineers

Nature of the Work [About this section] Index

Aerospace engineers are responsible for developing extraordinary machines, from airplanes that weigh over a half a million pounds to spacecraft that travel over 17,000 miles an hour. They design, develop, and test aircraft, spacecraft, and missiles and supervise manufacturing of these products. Aerospace engineers who work with aircraft are considered aeronautical engineers, and those working specifically with spacecraft are considered astronautical engineers.

Aerospace engineers develop new technologies for use in aviation, defense systems, and space exploration, often specializing in areas like structural design, guidance, navigation and control, instrumentation and communication, or production methods. They also may specialize in a particular type of aerospace product, such as commercial transports, military fighter jets, helicopters, spacecraft, or missiles and rockets. Aerospace engineers may be experts in aerodynamics, thermodynamics, celestial mechanics, propulsion, acoustics, or guidance and control systems.

Employment [About this section]  Index

Aerospace engineers held about 53,000 jobs in 1998. Almost one-half worked in the aircraft and parts and guided missile and space vehicle manufacturing industries. Federal Government agencies, primarily the Department of Defense and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, provided about 1 out of 7 jobs. Business services, engineering and architectural services, research and testing services, and electrical and electronics manufacturing firms accounted for most of the remaining jobs.

California, Washington, Texas, and Florida—States with large aerospace manufacturers—employ the most aerospace engineers.

Job Outlook [About this section]  Index

Those seeking employment as aerospace engineers are likely to face keen competition because the supply of graduates is expected to exceed the number of job openings. Employment of aerospace engineers is expected to grow more slowly than the average for all occupations through 2008. The decline in Defense Department expenditures for military aircraft, missiles, and other aerospace systems has caused mergers and acquisitions among defense contractors. In addition, Federal Government funding for research and development of new systems has also declined. Offsetting these declines, however, is the projected growth in the civilian sector due to orders from domestic and foreign airlines that need to accommodate increasing passenger traffic and to replace the present fleet of airliners with quieter and more fuel-efficient aircraft. Most job openings will result from the need to replace aerospace engineers who transfer to other occupations or leave the labor force.

Earnings [About this section]  Index

Median annual earnings of aerospace engineers were $66,950 in 1998. The middle 50 percent earned between $51,170 and $82,620. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $42,650 and the highest 10 percent earned more than $93,880. Median annual earnings in the industries employing the largest numbers of aerospace engineers in 1997 were:

Aircraft and parts $72,200
Federal Government 70,000
Guided missiles, space vehicles, and parts 58,200

According to a 1999 salary survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers, bachelor’s degree candidates in aerospace engineering received starting offers averaging about $40,700 a year; master’s degree candidates, $54,200; and Ph.D. candidates, $64,400.

(See introduction to the section on engineers for information on working conditions, training requirements, and sources of additional information.)

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