Aerospace engineers invent, research, design, test, maintain and construct flight vehicles including aircraft, spacecraft, helicopters, satellites, drones and rockets. They’re concerned with improving flight safety, fuel efficiency, vehicle speed and weight, and the environmental impact of air travel.
Where Do Aerospace Engineers Work?
Aerospace engineers can specialise in specific areas such as materials and structures, aerodynamics, avionics, navigation and control, propulsion or production methods. This opens up a vast array of potential careers, some of which may surprise you.
In a design office, aerospace engineers work together to provide clients with proposals that address specific aircraft needs while meeting regulatory and other requirements.
An aerospace engineer in a design office will:
- Draw up hard and soft specifications for the aircraft/spacecraft design
- Design aircraft/spacecraft parts and support equipment
- Perform analytical calculations and prepare CAD/CAM drawings
- Ensure design specifications and regulatory requirements are met
- Design modifications to systems (like the fuel or environmental control system) and outline appropriate installation procedures
- Conduct tests to measure the performance of an aircraft or part, to meet regulatory/airworthiness requirements
- Evaluate new and used aircraft and advise potential purchasers.
Much of the design work done by aerospace engineers uses drawing software like CAD/CAM (eg. CATIA). They also use analysis software, like NASTRAND for finite element or ANSYS or FLUENT for computational fluid dynamics.
Aerospace engineers work in offices specialising in the manufacture, testing, repair and maintenance of a flight vehicle and its various components. In this case, the aerospace engineer may be expected to:
- Supervise the assembly of airframes and the installation of engines, instruments and other equipment
- Decide on things like where fuel tanks should be placed and check that the support structure of the aircraft is strong enough to carry the extra weight
- Conduct tests to measure the performance of an aircraft or part, or to make sure that design specifications and airworthiness requirements are met
- Participate in flight test programs to measure take-off distances, rate of climb, stall speeds, manoeuvrability and landing capacities etc
- Assess mechanical systems, flight characteristics and aircraft performance
- Investigate failed engines or other aviation components
- Develop procedures for the repair of aviation components
- Work out and manage schedules for repairs and maintenance.
Often big airline operators such as Qantas will have their own repair and maintenance sections.
In regulatory authorities (CASA or Civil Aviation Safety Authority in Australia), aerospace engineers check on designs proposed for safety and compliance of appropriate regulations. They assess the manufacturer’s information and the aircraft’s structure, electrical and avionics instruments and power plants.
These aerospace engineers may need to formulate new regulations, give special considerations to new designs or issue certifications and licences. They may also be involved in accident investigations or grounding of aircraft that aren’t airworthy.
Most countries’ Department of Defence have branches responsible for monitoring the design and construction of new flight vehicles, and in-service support and maintenance. Procurement involves choosing and overseeing contractors’ operations. Defence aerospace engineers may be responsible for performance and structural analysis and checking for the flight vehicle’s ongoing airworthiness.
Aerospace engineers are involved in pushing the boundaries of aerospace science to meet new technology challenges. This may be in industry, research and defence organisations, as part of industry and academic collaborations with universities or as part of postgraduate research.
Software Development Companies
Aerospace engineers use software extensively for a multitude of tasks, including developing industry-specific software.
Aircraft accidents usually end up in court. An aerospace engineer is required to provide technical expertise to resolve issues, including providing an accident report or acting as an expert witness.
Many aerospace engineers have been employed in financial institutions in risk assessment of various investments.