A career in aerospace engineering will see you working with cutting-edge technology and international companies
An aerospace or aeronautical engineer researches, designs, develops, maintains and tests the performance of:
- civil and military aircraft;
- weapons systems;
- space vehicles.
Work is also carried out on the different components that make up these aircraft and systems.
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. Increasingly, the role addresses the environmental impact of air travel.
Types of aerospace engineer
You can specialise in a particular area such as:
- materials and structures;
- systems integration.
Specific tasks vary according to the role, specialist area and employer but they may include:
- applying the principles of science and technology to create aircraft, components and support equipment;
- researching and developing design specifications and using computer-aided design (CAD) software to create plans;
- supervising the assembly of airframes and the installation of engines, instruments and other equipment;
- taking part in flight-test programmes to measure take-off distances, rate of climb, stall speeds, manoeuvrability and landing capacities;
- resolving issues that arise during the design, development and testing processes;
- maintaining aircraft for full operation including making regular inspections, maintenance, repairs and servicing;
- measuring and improving the performance of aircraft, components and systems;
- modifying designs to improve safety features or minimise fuel consumption and pollution;
- investigating aircraft accidents;
- collating information, interpreting data and publishing the results of specific projects in technical report form;
- project managing, including scheduling resources and staff and managing budgets;
- communicating technical and regulatory advice to clients, teams, suppliers and other professionals within the aerospace industry and presenting data to groups and individuals.
- Starting salaries for aerospace engineers range from £22,000 to £28,000.
- With experience, salaries can rise to £28,000 to £40,000 depending on the level of your expertise.
- At senior levels, particularly if you gain chartered status, salaries of £45,000 to £60,000+ can be reached.
Starting salaries at the higher end may be offered to those with Masters or research qualifications. Larger, more renowned employers may offer larger salaries.
Income figures are intended as a guide only.
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
- Work is carried out in offices, factory production hangars or aeronautical laboratories. You may have to travel to sites and other industrial companies to examine or test aircraft.
- 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, Midlands, North West, Northern Ireland, 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 need to show dedication and enthusiasm. Workloads may vary from day-to-day and it can be stressful 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 over night are sometimes necessary to visit aircraft workshops or hangars. Overseas travel may be required to attend courses and conferences on aeronautical engineering.
The most common route into this job is through studying a degree in aeronautical/aerospace engineering. However, employers may accept other relevant degrees such as:
- computer science/software engineering;
- electrical and electronic engineering;
- 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. Postgraduate study may also allow you to specialise in a certain area of aerospace engineering. Search for postgraduate courses in aerospace engineering.
It's useful if your first degree or Masters is accredited by a relevant professional body, such as the Royal Aeronautical Society (RAeS) as it can help you to 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.
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 to be solved;
- 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 that you have normal colour vision.
Pre-entry experience is advisable. 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.
Aerospace engineers are employed by:
- aircraft and aircraft component manufacturing companies;
- 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 Industria Startegy (BEIS);
- the further and higher education sectors;
- regulators such as the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA);
- airline operators.
There is also a growing market for maintenance, repair and overhaul of military and commercial aircraft.
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:
- Aviation Jobsearch
- Engineering & Technology Jobs
- Flightglobal Jobs
- Royal Aeronautical Society Jobs
You should also look at the websites of aerospace companies 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.
Graduate training schemes with large aerospace companies provide structured programmes that give you knowledge of the company and experience in different engineering departments. Some schemes include placements at partner companies. 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 the Royal Aeronautical Society (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.
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:
- Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE)
- Royal Aeronautical Society (RAeS)