If you have ever taken a plane flight or even watched a jet flying high overhead, you have been exposed to the work of an aviation engineer. One of the most demanding of the aviation careers, the work of these dedicated men and women requires much care and precision. Aviation engineer jobs aren't just for anyone; this is a career that requires a great deal of training and dedication, but the reward of seeing the final rollout of a design you helped create makes the many hours of school and on the job well worth the effort. After all, not many people get to design something that millions of travelers around the world will use every day, betting their lives on the calculations and knowledge that only an aircraft engineer possesses.
Occupations and Jobs
First, aircraft engineers (and their associated colleagues in the greater aerospace field) design airplanes, from tiny ultra lights to gigantic jumbo jets. Aviation engineering jobs can be very complex, so it is not unusual to find engineers specializing in different types of aircraft (private, commercial, commercial transports, military transports, and fighters, helicopters or even spacecraft and rockets). Some aviation jobs are even more specialized, with engineers that only deal in specific aspects of aviation design, such as materials usage, avionics and navigation, instrumentation and controls, communications, guidance systems, production methods, propulsion, acoustics, or structural design.
While the vast majority of aircraft engineers are employed in the design and construction of aircraft, their skills are becoming increasingly valuable in other related areas. With rising fuel costs and the availability of new materials, the automobile and ground transport fields are also using aeronautically-trained engineers to design vehicles that are aerodynamic and energy efficient.
As with most engineering jobs, aircraft engineers use computers and complex computer-aided design (CAD) suites to produce the complex plans needed to build and test modern aircraft. These computerized systems require large, well-lit, and air conditioned office spaces to protect their delicate hardware. As with other CAD designers, aircraft engineers typically work 9 to 5 hours, Mondays through Fridays, although the needs of a particular project may occasionally call for long sessions of overtime.
Besides using computers, aircraft engineers also use a wide variety of advanced tools to prototype and test their designs. Their tools include lasers and robots, rapid prototyping systems, wind tunnels, physics modeling software, aircraft simulators, and other complex devices.
Entry-level jobs in the aircraft engineering field require a bachelor's degree in engineering, preferably with an emphasis on aeronautics and other related fields. Additional study in drafting, programming, mathematics and computer aided design (CAD) are normally part of an engineering curriculum. This training can be acquired through universities and technical schools nationwide, as well as in specialized engineering programs that may offer graduate level training. Some experience in working in another area of engineering is also useful before attempting to enter the more challenging aeronautical engineering field.
Aircraft engineer yearly salaries start at approximately $52,000, with most experienced engineers earning between $79,100 and $113,520. Almost 90% are in the top salary bracket as of 2004.
The forecast for new aircraft engineers is expected to show slower than average growth, due to increased efficiencies, international competition, and fewer new commercial aircraft jobs. However, as high-end aviation jobs require more experience, advancement from a starting position holds great promise. With time, these positions can be developed into design manager or project manager positions.
Most aviation engineers are employed designing aircraft and other aerospace vehicles and associated parts for these vehicles. As of 2002, there were approximately 78,000 people employed in aviation engineering jobs. As many as 10% of these worked for agencies of the Federal Government, including NASA and the Department of Defense. Due to rising competition for foreign companies such as Airbus, as well as a reduction in overall air travel and the consolidation/decline of many airlines, the number of aviation engineers available is expected to decline through 2012. Despite this, opportunities for jobs in aviation are expected to remain strong, thanks to a lack of trained engineers entering the market and the steady attrition of already employed engineers due to retirement. Opportunities to parlay aviation engineering skills in other areas such as vehicle and high-speed transport design are also expected to increase the number of aviation jobs available through the 2007-2012 period.
How to Find Jobs
Aviation careers can be found by visiting job fairs or speaking to recruiters who come to engineering campuses to meet with new graduates. Jobs are also offered via specialized online job boards and headhunting/job search services.