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
  • missiles
  • weapons systems
  • satellites
  • space vehicles.

Work is also carried out on the different components that make up these 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 advancing technologies to meet customer needs. The role is increasingly addressing the environmental impact of air travel.

Types of aerospace engineer

You can specialise in a particular area such as:

  • aerodynamics
  • avionics
  • materials and structures
  • propulsion
  • systems integration.

Responsibilities

Your tasks as an aerospace engineer can vary depending on your specialist area and employer, but you could 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, manoeuvrability 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
  • investigate aircraft accidents
  • collate information, interpret data and publish the results of specific projects in technical report form
  • communicate technical and regulatory advice to clients, teams, suppliers and other professionals within the aerospace industry.

Salary

  • Starting salaries for aerospace engineers range from £22,000 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+.

You may be offered a starting salary at the higher end of the band if you have a Masters or research qualification. Larger, more renowned employers typically offer larger salaries.

Income figures are intended as a guide only.

Working hours

Working hours are mainly 9am to 5pm, but extra hours may be required to complete projects to deadlines. You may need to work on an on-call consultation basis, dealing with such issues as a change in the priority of repairs or in case of an emergency investigation.

Working at the forefront of technology makes long career breaks difficult, as you need to keep up to date with industry developments. Self-employment opportunities are limited.

What to expect

  • You may be based in offices, factory production hangars or aeronautical laboratories. Travel to sites and other industrial companies to examine or test aircraft may be required.
  • Design work in a laboratory will involve the use of sophisticated computer visualisation tools and software.
  • Jobs are widely available in a number of locations in the UK and abroad. The main aerospace manufacturing locations in the UK are the South West, the Midlands, the North West, Northern Ireland, the South East and Wales. The UK has a very advanced aerospace industry, which is at the forefront of technological and scientific development.
  • Only a small percentage of women are working as aerospace engineers. Support and access to initiatives relevant to women in engineering is available from organisations such as Women's Engineering Society (WES) and WISE.
  • You'll need to show dedication and enthusiasm. Workloads may vary from day to day, and can be a stressful job when deadlines approach. The work must be precise, as the consequences of human error can be serious.
  • Travel within a working day and absence from home overnight are sometimes necessary to visit aircraft workshops or hangars. Overseas travel may be required to attend courses and conferences on aeronautical engineering.

Qualifications

Degrees are available in aeronautical or aerospace engineering but employers may accept other relevant degrees such as:

  • computer science/software engineering
  • electrical and electronic engineering
  • mathematics
  • mechanical engineering
  • physics/applied physics
  • production/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 will not usually be possible for these programmes.

If you do have a HND, you may be able to enter at a technician level or through an apprenticeship in a lower-level manufacturing role. To become an aerospace engineer however, you'll need to take further qualifications which may be supported by your employer.

It isn't essential for you to have a pre-entry postgraduate qualification but a Masters in aeronautical/aerospace engineering can be useful if your first degree is in a different subject.

It's useful if your first degree or Masters is accredited by a relevant professional body, such as the Royal Aeronautical Society (RAeS) as this can help you achieve the status of incorporated or chartered engineer at a later date. You can find a list of accredited courses at Engineering Council - Accredited Course Search.

Alternatively, you can start your search for postgraduate courses in aerospace engineering.

Skills

You will need to show:

  • 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
  • a level of commercial awareness and knowledge of the aerospace industry
  • communication and teamworking skills when dealing with colleagues
  • the ability to work to deadlines with self-motivation
  • organisational and time-management skills
  • the ability to cope with new demands and new problems that need solving
  • a love of aviation, aircraft and flight technology.

Language skills may be useful because of joint ventures with international companies and the possibility of travel to company sites outside the UK. Security clearance is required for defence work. Due to the technical nature of this job, employers may stipulate normal colour vision as an entry requirement.

Work experience

It's advisable that you gain some pre-entry experience. Many aerospace engineering degrees include sandwich placements but you can also get experience through vacation work. Contact major aerospace companies to find out about opportunities.

Employers value industrial placements as an opportunity to identify potential graduate recruits.

Employers

Aerospace engineers are employed by:

  • aircraft and aircraft component manufacturing companies
  • airline operators
  • the armed forces, including the Army, the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force (RAF)
  • government research agencies such as the Ministry of Defence (MoD), the Defence Engineering and Science Group (DESG) and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS)
  • the further and higher education sectors
  • regulators such as the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA).

It's possible to undertake sub-contract work, which gives you the opportunity to experience the job in different companies and countries.

Look for job vacancies at:

You should also look at aerospace company websites to find out what opportunities they have. There are a number of recruitment agencies dedicated to the engineering/aerospace industry, which may be able to help you find work.

Professional development

Graduate training schemes are often available with large aerospace companies. Some of these schemes include placements at partner companies and will provide you with a wide range of experience.

Smaller employers typically provide training on the job and you'll usually be supervised by a more experienced colleague.

You may decide to work towards incorporated (IEng) or chartered (CEng) engineer status and many employers encourage this. These internationally recognised qualifications are awarded by the Engineering Council and achieving them improves your career prospects and earning potential.

You'll need to be a member of a professional institution such as RAeS, and you must be able to demonstrate a certain level of competence and professional activity. This may involve further postgraduate study, project management, report writing and short training courses. For more information see Engineering Council - Professional Registration.

It's important to stay up to date with key developments in this fast-moving sector and becoming a member of a relevant organisation can help with this. RAeS provides conferences, training courses and specialist groups to help with continuing professional development (CPD).

Employers usually offer short courses, either in-house or externally, to meet specific training needs. Larger companies may invest not only in technical training, but also training in specialist topics including:

  • leadership and change management
  • project management
  • information technology.

Career prospects

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 a certain area 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.

Becoming a chartered engineer helps with career progression and salary prospects as it shows that a certain level of experience and knowledge has been reached.

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: