Career Guides
Aerospace Engineer

Career Guide: How to become an Aerospace Engineer


Welcome to the comprehensive career guide for aspiring aerospace engineers. Whether you are a student deciding on a career path, a young professional aiming to switch fields, or simply curious about aerospace engineering, this guide will provide essential insights into the realm of designing, testing, and developing aircraft, spacecraft, and beyond.

Aerospace engineering is a dynamic field, combining elements of mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, materials science, and physics. In this guide, we explore what it means to be an aerospace engineer, the educational and professional paths available, the skills necessary to succeed, potential earnings, and finally, the career outlook for those entering this exciting field.

From understanding the core responsibilities of an aerospace engineer to navigating the job market, we aim to assist you in making informed decisions and preparing effectively for a successful career in aerospace engineering. Let's launch into your future!

What Is an Aerospace Engineer?

Aerospace engineering is a specialized field of engineering that focuses on the design, development, testing, and production of aircraft, spacecraft, satellites, and missiles. This discipline involves applying principles from physics, mathematics, and materials science to solve complex problems associated with atmospheric and space flight systems. There are two primary branches within this field:

  • Aeronautical Engineering: Concentrates on the science and technology of flight within Earth’s atmosphere. Aeronautical engineers work on the development and performance improvement of commercial and military aircraft, including jets, helicopters, and drones.
  • Astronautical Engineering: Focuses on the science and technology of spacecraft and launch vehicles that operate outside the atmosphere of Earth. Astronautical engineers design and develop satellites and spacecraft for various missions, including exploration, communication, and navigation.

The role of aerospace engineers extends beyond design; they are also involved in manufacturing, testing, and maintaining aircraft and spacecraft to ensure optimal functionality, safety, and adherence to regulatory requirements. Often, they work in multidisciplinary teams that include professionals from other engineering fields and sciences, which fosters a collaborative environment required for complex aerospace projects.

The field continuously evolves as technology advances, which calls for innovative problem-solving to meet the challenges posed by new discoveries and the ever-increasing requirements for aerospace structures and systems. Through their work, aerospace engineers contribute significantly not only to safeguarding the present but also to charting the future course of transportation, defense, and exploration in outer space.

Key Responsibilities of an Aerospace Engineer

Aerospace Engineering is a dynamic field that combines elements of mechanical, electronic, and materials engineering to design and develop aircraft, spacecraft, satellites, and even missiles. The core responsibilities of aerospace engineers are critical and intricate, as they play a significant role in designing, testing, and contributing to advancements in aerospace technology. Below, we detail the primary job responsibilities of aerospace engineers:

  • Design and Development: Aerospace engineers are primarily responsible for the designing of aircraft and spacecraft. This includes creating initial blueprints, developing detailed designs, and ensuring that the final products meet engineering principles, customer requirements, and environmental regulations.
  • Analysis and Testing: Before any aerospace product is cleared for manufacturing, it must undergo rigorous testing to ensure safety and functionality. Aerospace engineers prepare and oversee simulations, system-level tests, and validate the design and performance of the prototypes.
  • Research: Continual improvement is key in aerospace engineering. Engineers must consistently engage in research to propose, assess, and integrate new technologies or materials. This research helps advance the innovation and efficiency of aerodynamic vehicles.
  • Manufacturing Support: Aerospace engineers also play a crucial role during the manufacturing process. They provide technical advice, ensure the design specifications are met, and solve any engineering issues that arise during production.
  • Project Management: Depending on their roles, some aerospace engineers are also responsible for managing projects. This includes planning, coordinating, budgeting, and overseeing the implementation of projects from conception through to completion.
  • Maintenance and Safety Evaluations: Ensuring the long-term operation and safety of aircraft and spacecraft involves regular maintenance checks and safety evaluations. Aerospace engineers are involved in developing maintenance standards and safety protocols.
  • Regulatory Compliance: Aerospace engineers must ensure all projects comply with governmental and international regulatory requirements. This involves staying updated with the regulations and often interacting with regulatory bodies during the certification process.

These responsibilities make the role of an aerospace engineer both challenging and rewarding, putting them at the forefront of technological advancement and innovation in aerospace industries.

How Long Does it Take to Become an Aerospace Engineer?

Becoming an aerospace engineer is a commitment that involves significant education and potentially some additional training or experience. The timeline can vary depending on the educational path chosen and the specific career goals of an individual. Here’s a general breakdown:

  • Bachelor's Degree: The first and most crucial step is obtaining a Bachelor's degree in aerospace engineering or a related field. This typically takes four years of full-time study. The curriculum includes courses in general engineering principles, propulsion, aerodynamics, structures, and systems, among others.
  • Internships: While not always mandatory, completing internships during collegiate studies can be incredibly beneficial. Internships provide practical experience, which can be an excellent addition to academic credentials when applying for jobs. These are usually carried out in the summers between semesters.
  • Master’s Degree: Some positions in aerospace engineering, particularly those in research or a specialized area, may require a Master's degree. A Master's typically requires an additional two years post-bachelor's education.
  • Ph.D.: If you're interested in high-level research or academic positions, pursuing a Ph.D. might be necessary. This can take an additional three to five years after obtaining a Master’s degree, depending on the thesis topic and the institution.
  • Licensure and Continuing Education: In some regions and job roles, an aerospace engineer must also be licensed as a Professional Engineer (PE). This process involves passing the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam, gaining sufficient work experience (typically four years), and passing the PE exam. Continuous education through workshops and seminars is also essential to keep up with technological advancements.

Overall, if you are starting with your undergraduate studies, you should plan for at least four to five years of education to enter the field as a qualified aerospace engineer. Pursuing further specialization, additional degrees, or licensure can extend this timeline considerably.

What are the Qualifications Required to Become an Aerospace Engineer?

Becoming an aerospace engineer requires a solid foundation in various educational qualifications and certifications. The journey starts with formal education, typically culminating in acquiring a degree, followed by obtaining necessary certifications and sometimes even gaining postgraduate education.

Educational Requirements

  • Bachelor’s Degree: Aspiring aerospace engineers must begin with a Bachelor’s degree in Aerospace Engineering or other related fields such as Mechanical Engineering, Electrical Engineering, or Materials Science. This foundational degree provides essential knowledge in aerodynamics, structures, propulsion, and avionics.
  • Advanced Degrees (Optional): While not always required, a Master's or Doctoral degree can be advantageous, particularly for those aiming for research and development positions, or roles in academia.

Certification and Licensing

To work on certain projects, especially those related to public safety, aerospace engineers need to be licensed as Professional Engineers (PEs). This process involves:

  • Passing the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam, typically taken right after graduation.
  • Gaining sufficient work experience, usually at least four years under a licensed engineer.
  • Passing the Professional Engineering (PE) exam.

Continued Professional Development

Aerospace technology and software tools are continually evolving, necessitating ongoing education. Engineers often participate in professional development courses and workshops to stay updated with the latest technological and regulatory advancements in their field.

Industry Certification

Beyond academic degrees and professional licensing, certifications specific to particular tools, technologies, or methodologies are highly regarded in the aerospace sector. For example, certifications in systems like CAD software or project management methodologies such as Agile or Lean can enhance a candidate’s employability.

Internships and Co-op Programs

Gaining practical experience through internships or cooperative education (co-op) programs while still in school can be incredibly beneficial. These opportunities allow students to apply academic theories to real-world engineering problems and start building a professional network.

In summary, prospective aerospace engineers need a strategic mix of formal education, professional licensing, continuous learning, and practical experience. This combination of qualifications not only meets the minimum requirements but also sets a solid groundwork for a successful career in aerospace engineering.

What are the Skills and Knowledge Required to Become an Aerospace Engineer?

Aerospace engineering is a complex field requiring a blend of diverse skills and in-depth knowledge to succeed. This section investigates the essential skills and knowledge set necessary for a career in aerospace engineering.

Technical Proficiency

  • Mathematics and Physics: A strong grasp of advanced mathematics and physics is vital as these are the foundational stones upon which aerospace engineering is built. Calculus, aerodynamics, and thermodynamics are particularly important areas of expertise.
  • Computer Skills: Proficiency in computer-aided design (CAD) software, such as AutoCAD or SolidWorks, and programming languages like Python or MATLAB, is essential for simulation and design tasks.

Problem Solving and Analytical Skills

Aerospace engineers must design and troubleshoot complex systems and components. This requires excellent analytical skills to evaluate design solutions and ensure they align with safety and functionality criteria.

Attention to Detail

Given the high stakes associated with aerospace components, a meticulous attention to detail is crucial. This precision helps in identifying potential issues before they manifest into serious problems, ensuring safety and effectiveness.

Innovation and Creativity

As technology and demands evolve, being innovative and creative allows aerospace engineers to develop new solutions and improvements for aerospace technology and exploration.

Knowledge of Industry Regulations

A thorough understanding of industry-specific regulations and standards, such as those imposed by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in the U.S. or the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) in Europe, is critical for compliance.

Collaboration and Communication Skills

Aerospace projects often involve teams of specialists, necessitating clear and effective communication. Whether you are reflecting complex data into reports or presenting designs and solutions, strong verbal and written communication skills are indispensable.

Project Management

Capability in managing projects, often with significant budgets and tight deadlines, is also critical. This involves coordinating with various stakeholders, overseeing technical teams, and ensuring projects are completed on time and within budget.

In summary, the role of an aerospace engineer is not only technically demanding but also requires soft skills and a keen understanding of regulations and industry standards. These competencies ensure that aerospace engineers can navigate the complexities of the job effectively.

How Much Does an Aerospace Engineer Make?

The salary of an aerospace engineer can vary widely depending on several factors including educational background, years of experience, and geographical location. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median annual wage for aerospace engineers was approximately $118,610 as of May 2022.

Below is a breakdown of how salaries can differ within the field:

  • Entry-Level Positions: Those just beginning their careers in aerospace engineering can expect to earn around the lower 10 percent of the salary range, which is about $74,700 according to BLS data.
  • Mid-Career Professionals: With experience, professionals in this field may see their salaries grow significantly. Mid-career aerospace engineers can earn in the range of $110,000 to $135,000 depending on their specific job role and responsibilities.
  • Senior-Level Engineers: At the high end, experienced aerospace engineers with advanced skills and leadership responsibilities can earn upwards of $166,620, which is reflective of the upper 10 percent in the field.

In addition to base salary, many aerospace engineers receive additional benefits which can include bonuses, profit-sharing arrangements, health insurance, retirement plans, and more, which greatly add to the total compensation package.

Geographical location also plays a pivotal role in determining salary. States with a high concentration of aerospace activity, like California, Washington, and Texas, often offer higher salaries to attract skilled engineers due to the high demand in those regions.

Lastly, sectors within aerospace, like defense, commercial aviation, or space exploration, also influence earnings. Engineers in the space exploration sector, for instance, might earn different salaries compared to those in defense or commercial sectors due to differing budgetary allocations and funding levels in these industries.

Career Outlook for Aerospace Engineers

The career outlook for aerospace engineers is promising, with several factors contributing to its robust growth prospects. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of aerospace engineers is expected to grow by 3% from 2019 to 2029, about as fast as the average for all occupations. This growth is primarily driven by the need for innovative technologies for national defense and the development of new aircraft and spacecraft.

Factors Influencing Job Prospects:

  • Defense: With global security concerns on the rise, demand for advanced military aircraft, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), and missile systems continues to increase. Engineers who can contribute to these areas may find ample opportunities.
  • Space Exploration: The revitalization of space exploration and travel offers unique employment opportunities. Companies like SpaceX and Blue Origin are expanding, increasing demand for aerospace engineers with skills in spacecraft design and operations.
  • Commercial Aviation: Despite temporary setbacks due to global events such as pandemics, the long-term demand for commercial aircraft is expected to rebound and grow, driven by increasing air travel demands in emerging markets.
  • Sustainability: Environmental regulations and the need for fuel-efficient, quieter aircraft continue to drive research and development in aerospace technology.

Moreover, the advancement in digital technologies such as artificial intelligence and robotics in designing and manufacturing aerospace products is likely to create new opportunities for aerospace engineers. These professionals will need to innovate to improve safety and performance while reducing costs and environmental impact.

Geographical Hotspots:

Certain regions in the United States, such as California, Washington, and Florida, are known for their aerospace manufacturing and research facilities. These areas typically offer the highest concentration of aerospace engineering jobs and opportunities for advancements in the field. Internationally, countries with significant investment in aviation and space exploration, like France, Germany, and China, also offer substantial opportunities for aerospace professionals.

In conclusion, the aerospace sector offers a stable yet dynamic setting for career growth. Engineers willing to continuously update their technical skills and knowledge, and who can adapt to fast-evolving tech landscapes, will likely find rewarding careers in this field.

Finding Jobs as an Aerospace Engineer

The job search for an aerospace engineer can be both exciting and daunting. Navigating the aerospace sector requires a clear understanding of where to look and how to present oneself as a stellar candidate. Here are essential strategies and resources for securing a position in this dynamic field.

1. Start with Networking

Networking is crucial in the aerospace industry. Start building your professional network early by:

  • Attending aerospace conferences and seminars: These events are great opportunities to meet industry professionals and learn about the latest technologies and trends.
  • Joining professional associations: Organizations such as the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) offer networking opportunities, resources, and events for aerospace professionals.
  • Engaging on LinkedIn: Maintain an active LinkedIn profile tailored towards aerospace engineering. Connect with peers, join industry groups, and participate in discussions.

2. Utilize Job Boards and Career Websites

Several specialized job boards list opportunities specifically for aerospace engineers. These include:

  • AeroIndustryJobs: Focuses on jobs within the aerospace, defense, and aviation sector.
  • Aviation Job Search: Offers a global list of aerospace positions.
  • Indeed and Glassdoor: While more generalized, they do have a substantial number of aerospace job listings, complete with company reviews and salary information.

3. Consider Internships and Cooperative Education Programs

Participating in internships and co-op programs can significantly enhance your employability. It provides hands-on experience and improves understanding of the aerospace sector. Universities often have partnerships with aerospace companies to facilitate these programs.

4. Look for Government and Defense Opportunities

Many aerospace engineers work in government or defense-related positions. Checking the career portals of entities such as NASA, the Federal Aviation Administration, or national defense departments can be fruitful. Security clearance might be required for several of these roles, reflecting the need for trustworthiness and responsibility.

5. Prepare for the Job Search

Your preparation should include:

  • Refining your resume: Tailor your resume to highlight skills and experiences relevant to an aerospace career, focusing on specific projects or roles that align with the job you’re applying for.
  • Practicing interview skills: Many companies in the aerospace industry conduct highly technical interviews; be prepared to discuss your past projects and how you’ve applied your technical knowledge.

Securing a job as an aerospace engineer requires dedication and strategic preparation. Leverage every resource available and always aim to stay updated on industry developments. A proactive approach will significantly increase your chances of landing your desired role in this exhilarating field.


Becoming an aerospace engineer is a pursuit of passion, precision, and dedication. This career not only involves technical expertise but also a visionary approach to pushing the boundaries of what is possible in air and space travel. From the detailed designing of aircraft, spacecraft, satellites, and missiles to the test phases and final launches, each step in an aerospace engineer's career path is geared towards fostering innovation and safety in the field of aviation and beyond.

The role of an aerospace engineer is critical in today's technologically driven environment. They not only contribute to the advancement of transportation but also play a pivotal role in national defense and space exploration endeavors. Thus, making this profession not only dynamic and challenging but also immensely rewarding.

As we have outlined in this guide, the path to becoming an aerospace engineer requires a robust educational foundation in science and mathematics, and a continuous commitment to learning and professional development. Aerospace engineers must also showcase exceptional problem-solving skills, creativity, and teamwork to succeed in this field.

The financial and career prospects in aerospace engineering are promising, given the ongoing innovations and the global expansion in aerospace technology. Moreover, the satisfaction of contributing to significant advancements in technology that impact society globally can be a fulfilling aspect of this career.

For aspiring aerospace engineers, understanding the scope of their responsibilities, the educational requirements, and the personal competencies needed is crucial. Equipped with this knowledge, you can make well-informed decisions about your educational path and career strategies in the aerospace sector.

In summary, a career as an aerospace engineer is intellectually stimulating and offers extensive opportunities for career growth and development. It is a profession that calls for a blend of in-depth theoretical knowledge and practical, hands-on expertise, aimed at improving how we travel through and beyond our atmosphere.


What degree do I need to become an aerospace engineer?

To become an aerospace engineer, you typically need at least a bachelor's degree in aerospace engineering or a related field such as mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, or materials science. Some positions, especially those in research or academia, may require a master's degree or Ph.D.

Are there any certifications required for aerospace engineers?

While certification is not typically required to become an aerospace engineer, obtaining certifications can enhance your credibility and professional standing. The American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) offers certifications that are recognized within the industry.

What skills are essential for a successful career in aerospace engineering?

Key skills for aerospace engineers include strong analytical abilities, problem-solving skills, proficiency in math and physics, understanding of computer-aided design (CAD) software, and strong fundamentals in aerodynamics and propulsion systems. Effective communication and teamwork skills are also crucial as aerospace engineers often work in multidisciplinary teams.

What industries do aerospace engineers work in?

Aerospace engineers find opportunities in various industries including aviation, space exploration, defense, and research and development. They work for corporations, government agencies, and private research firms.

How competitive is the field of aerospace engineering?

Aerospace engineering is a highly competitive field, especially for positions involving cutting-edge technology or space exploration. However, engineers with advanced education, skills, and experience are highly sought after.

Can aerospace engineers work internationally?

Yes, aerospace engineers can work internationally. Many large aerospace firms operate globally, and engineers may have opportunities to work on projects abroad or work with international teams.

What is the typical career progression for an aerospace engineer?

Aerospace engineers often start as junior engineers under the supervision of experienced engineers. With experience, they may advance to roles such as senior engineer, project manager, or department head. Continuing education, networking, and specialization can also lead to advanced career opportunities.

How often do aerospace engineers receive salary increments?

Salary increments for aerospace engineers typically depend on their employer, geographical location, level of experience, and changes within the industry. Generally, aerospace engineers might expect salary reviews and possible increments annually.

What is job security like in the aerospace engineering industry?

Job security in aerospace engineering can be influenced by factors such as economic cycles, government spending on defense and space exploration, and commercial airline market health. However, engineers with a robust set of skills and who are willing to continuously adapt and evolve with the industry tend to maintain secure employment.

Are there opportunities for freelancing in aerospace engineering?

Freelancing opportunities in aerospace engineering are less common but possible in areas such as consulting, software development, and contractual project work. Establishing a strong network and a reputable skill set is crucial for obtaining freelance work in this field.

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