Aerospace engineers design, build, and test airframes ranging from personal aircraft to jet fighters, military missiles to Space Shuttles. They also supervise the ongoing production aerial vehicles, identify and mitigate structural defects, and develop maintenance procedures to make sure designed systems function reliably for as long as possible. There are two customarily recognized sub-disciplines associated with aerospace engineering; aeronautical engineers work on aircraft that are meant to fly within Earth’s atmosphere, and astronautic engineers deal specifically with spacecraft used to travel into orbit and throughout the solar system. Aerospace engineering was negatively affected by cuts in military expenditures at the end of the Cold War, but recent years have seen an increase in demand for aerospace engineers.
Aerospace Engineer Responsibilities
Aerospace engineers in the United States tend to work for large aerospace focused companies in the vein of Boeing, Lockheed-Martin, and Northrop-Grumman. In addition, they are often found working for government agencies; such as the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the North American Space Administration (NASA). Such government engineers are responsible for developing and maintaining safety procedures that affect aircraft across the United States, as well as performing research and development on new technologies related to aerospace. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California is one research focused organization dedicated to developing new aerospace technology. Aerospace engineers are also in demand in foreign locales, and are employed by companies ranging from European Aeronautic Defense and Space Company (EADS) in Europe, the European Space Agency (ESA), and the famous Mikoyan Gurevich (MiG) and Sukhoi design bureaus in Russia.
Aerospace engineers work as specialized mechanical engineers, operating in design teams to research and construct airframes optimized to function according to certain customer demanded specifications. For example, an aerospace engineer working for Boeing may be responsible for analyzing the aerodynamic properties of the wing on a modified jet fighter airframe being prepped for export. This aerospace engineer will conduct mathematical modeling of the airflow over the wing using a computer engineering program, and utilize highly sensitive lasers to cut a wooden mock-up of the wing according to the optimum configuration predicted by the program. The aerospace engineer will then take the mock-up into a wind tunnel to test the properties of the airflow around the wing, and then analyze the results to determine its suitability for the project.
Aerospace engineers will work on every part of an aircraft or space vehicle, operating in teams to come up with the best overall design that meets the needs of the customer. Once a design is determined to be optimal, a prototype will be constructed under the instruction of the aerospace engineers responsible for the design. The prototype will be tested and analyzed, and its design refined to optimize performance. The aerospace engineers will continue to work on the aircraft even when it is in production, designing performance upgrades and remedying design defects that occur in production models.
Aerospace engineers following engineering methods and the general model of research, design, then test for any aerospace component in a new aircraft or spacecraft, including navigation, cargo, and engine systems.
The Boeing Aircraft Company states that the “Desired attributes of a Boeing engineer” are as follows:
- A good understanding of engineering science fundamentals.
- Mathematics (including statistics)
- Physical and life sciences
- Information technology (far more than "computer literacy")
- A good understanding of design and manufacturing processes.
- A multi-disciplinary, systems perspective.
- A basic understanding of the context in which engineering is practiced.
- Economics (including business practices)
- The environment
- Customer and societal needs
- Good communication skills.
- Written, oral, graphic and listening
- High ethical standards.
- An ability to think both critically and creatively - independently and cooperatively.
- Flexibility. The ability and self-confidence to adapt to rapid or major change.
- Curiosity and a desire to learn for life.
- A profound understanding of the importance of teamwork.
Note: This is a list of basic, durable attributes into which can be mapped specific skills reflecting the diversity of the overall engineering environment in which aerospace engineers practice and operate.
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