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Aerospace Engineer

Aerospace engineers research, design and manufacture aircraft, satellites, missiles and space vehicles. They may be specialist mechanical, electrical or electronics engineers who apply their knowledge to sophisticated products, and may specialise in airframes, hydraulics, piston, gas turbine or rocket engines, fuel, avionics or materials and structures. Aerospace engineers can be involved in research, design, manufacturing, experimenting with new materials, undertaking flight test programmes or maintaining and improving fleets of aircraft throughout the world.

Aerospace engineers normally work 37 to 40 hours a week. Those involved in research and design usually work in clean, quiet laboratories and research centres, but engineers also visit production areas which may be noisy. They may also have to visit aircraft at airfields to inspect or test aircraft functions.

Salaries range from £20,000 per annum to £50,000 or more.

Aerospace engineers should:

  • have a logical approach to problem solving
  • be able to produce, read and interpret diagrams and drawings
  • have good maths ability
  • be able to communicate ideas, verbally and in writing
  • be keen to keep up to date with new developments and technology
  • have normal colour vision for certain roles.

Aerospace engineers work with aerospace manufacturers and airline operators. Other employers include the armed forces, government departments and agencies, and regulatory authorities, such as the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) and airports. There are clusters of aerospace companies around the UK, notably in the Midlands, western and north-western England, Northern Ireland and eastern England. Their skills are also in demand by manufacturers of other vehicles such as hovercraft, cars and trains.

An aeronautical engineering degree is the most likely route into the career and there are many UK universities offering aeronautical engineering-based courses. Applicants without the usual academic qualifications may be accepted on to an engineering degree or HNC/HND course on the basis of experience, qualifications gained at other levels or having completed an Access course. The Diploma in engineering may be relevant for this area of work.

Apprenticeships are available and it is possible to begin training for craft or technician-level jobs straight from school with good GCSE grades in English, maths and science (preferably physics). Some Apprenticeship schemes may require candidates to have A level grades or equivalent in a science or engineering-related subject.

Aerospace engineers can go on to register with the Engineering Council (ECUK) as a professional engineer - either Incorporated Engineer (IEng) or Chartered Engineer (CEng).

What is the work like?

Aerospace engineers research, design and manufacture aircraft, satellites, missiles and space vehicles. They may be specialist mechanical, electrical or electronics engineers who apply their knowledge to sophisticated products.

They may specialise in:

  • airframes - the construction and maintenance of airframes and wings
  • hydraulics - the operation of aircraft controls, ailerons, elevators, flaps and undercarriages
  • engines - piston, gas turbine and rocket engines
  • fuel - storage and the use of specialist fuels
  • pneumatics - air compression used in jet engines and in aircraft controls
  • avionics - electrical and communication systems
  • materials and structures - investigating and testing new and existing materials for airframes and components.

Aerospace engineers may be involved in:

  • Researching new and innovative ways of doing things, solving complex engineering problems caused by weight, altitude, temperature and engine performance, and investigating ways of reducing the environmental impact of air travel.
  • Designing and turning ideas into the plans for a product. Design can range from producing a single component to a whole aircraft engine and may involve the use of computer-aided design (CAD) systems to help produce their designs.
  • Manufacturing, modifying and assembling the components for aircraft, missiles or satellites.
  • Experimenting with new materials or improving existing materials used in manufacture.
  • Undertaking flight test programmes to measure aircraft performances in take-off distances, rate of climb, stall speeds, manoeuvrability and landing capabilities.
  • Maintaining and improving fleets of aircraft throughout the world.

Some aerospace engineers may specialise in a particular aspect, such as thermodynamics or designing software for aircraft control systems. Some become experts in a particular subject, such as aerodynamics or propulsion.

Working on aerospace projects involves teams of people, and aerospace engineers may work with different types of engineer, designer and manufacturer, as well as pilots or users of the aircraft.

Hours and environment

Aerospace engineers normally work 37 to 40 hours a week. Hours can be considerably longer if there is a project deadline to meet, or to fit in with timetables for testing an aircraft. This could involve working evenings and weekends.

Engineers involved in research and design usually work in clean, quiet laboratories and research centres, but engineers also visit production areas which may be noisy. They may also have to visit aircraft at airfields to inspect or test aircraft functions.

Salary and other benefits

These figures are only a guide, as actual rates of pay may vary, depending on the employer and where people live.

  • Starting salaries for graduate aerospace engineers are usually between £20,000 and £25,000 a year.
  • Experienced engineers can earn around £40,000 or more, depending on their professional status.
  • Senior engineers may earn £50,000 or more.

Skills and personal qualities

Aerospace engineers should:

  • have a logical approach to problem solving
  • be able to produce, read and interpret diagrams and drawings
  • have good maths ability
  • be able to communicate ideas, verbally and in writing
  • have a high level of engineering knowledge
  • have excellent teamworking skills
  • be able to take on responsibility and work independently
  • be keen to keep up to date with new developments and technology
  • have normal colour vision for certain roles.

Interests

It is important to have an interest in:

  • aircraft and flight technology
  • design, engineering and construction.

Getting in

The UK aerospace industry employs over 250,000 people and has an annual turnover of more than £18 billion. More than 85,000 people currently work in engineering-related occupations in the aerospace industry, from craft level to senior roles. There is currently a shortage of suitably qualified aerospace engineers.

There are career opportunities for aerospace engineers with aerospace manufacturers and airline operators. Other employers include the armed forces, government departments and agencies, and regulatory authorities, such as the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) and airports. There are clusters of aerospace companies around the UK, notably in the Midlands, western and north-western England, Northern Ireland and eastern England. Their skills are also in demand by manufacturers of other vehicles such as hovercraft, cars and trains.

Further information on careers and jobs is available from the websites of The Royal Aeronautical Society (RAeS) and SCENTA. The recruitment website www.aviationjobsearch.com also advertises vacancies in the aviation industry.

Entry routes

Studying for an aeronautical engineering degree is the most likely route into the career and there are many UK universities offering aeronautical engineering-based courses. Aeronautical and aerospace engineering degrees involve three years' full-time study for BEng and four years' full-time study for MEng. Many degree programmes also include an industrial placement within the UK or overseas.

Entry to a degree normally requires a minimum of five GCSEs grades (A*-C) and two or three A levels, normally including maths and a science subject, or equivalent qualifications. The Diploma in engineering may be relevant for this area of work. At many universities, students without the necessary background in physics and maths can take a one-year foundation course before progressing to the degree course. Some employers and professional institutions offer sponsorship to students on degree courses.

Applicants without the usual academic qualifications may be considered for entry to an engineering degree or HNC/HND course on the basis of relevant experience, qualifications gained at other levels or having completed an Access course.

It is possible to begin training for craft or technician-level jobs straight from school, with good GCSE grades in English, maths and science (preferably physics). Apprenticeships in engineering and manufacturing may be available, although some Apprenticeship schemes may require candidates to have A level grades or equivalent in a science or engineering-related subject.

Apprenticeships and Advanced Apprenticeships provide structured training with an employer and, from August 2009, pay at least £95 per week. A recent survey found that the average wage for apprentices was £170 a week. Entry to Employment (e2e) can help to prepare those who are not yet ready for an Apprenticeship. In addition, Young Apprenticeships may be available for 14- to 16-year-olds. More information is available on the Apprenticeship page on this website, from a Connexions personal adviser or at www.apprenticeships.org.uk

Training

Following a degree or an HNC/HND, and after further training with an employer, aerospace engineers can go on to register with the Engineering Council (ECUK) as a professional engineer - either Incorporated Engineer (IEng) or Chartered Engineer (CEng). Candidates should be members of an engineering institution.

Aerospace engineers are expected to undertake continuing professional development (CPD). This can include attending courses, meetings, workshops and seminars.

The Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) offers awards to help women who are studying for Incorporated Engineer qualifications.

Getting on

There are opportunities for promotion for aerospace engineers working in both the public and private sector, and the broad skills learnt as an aerospace engineer can be extremely useful in other branches of engineering.

Many experienced engineers move into senior management roles or research and development during their career.

There are good opportunities overseas with British firms of consulting engineers working for foreign governments or with overseas aircraft construction companies. A number of aerospace engineers work independently as consultants.

Further information

Diploma Website: http://yp.direct.gov.uk/diplomas/

Engineering Connections. 0800 917 1617 and 0121 707 1404. Website: www.apprentices.co.uk

The Engineering Council (ECUK). 020 3206 0500. Website: www.engc.org.uk

EngineeringUK Website: www.engineeringuk.com

Enginuity careers. 0207 557 6432. Website: www.enginuity.org.uk

The Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET). 01438 313311. Website: www.theiet.org

Royal Aeronautical Society (RAeS), 4 Hamilton Place, London W1J 7BQ. 020 7670 4300. Website: www.aerosociety.com

SEMTA (the Sector Skills Council for Science, Engineering and Manufacturing Technologies). 01923 238441. Learning helpline 0800 282167l. Website: www.semta.org.uk

Women into Science, Engineering and Construction (WISE). 020 3206 0408. Website: www.wisecampaign.org.uk

Women's Engineering Society. 01438 765506. Website: www.wes.org.uk

 

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