How to Become an Aerospace Engineer

September 30, 2022

On December 17, 1903 in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, two brothers from Dayton, Ohio achieved what was at that time unthinkable: the miracle of flight. That day, they proved to a doubting world that a manned machine could fly under its own power. What Wilbur and Orville Wright did on that windy beach in the winter of 1903 became the stuff of American legend, and inarguably changed the course of human history. 

What most of us don’t know is the Wright brothers spent tireless years augmenting and updating the design of their original airplane before it ever took a single flight. One could say before they were pilots, they were some of the very first aerospace engineers. 

The brothers spent endless hours in the laboratory, and in a homemade wind tunnel back in Dayton, transforming their dream of powered flight into concrete reality. Their pioneering work was essential in building the foundation of the dynamic field of what we now call aerospace engineering. In today’s world, those interested in a career as an aerospace engineer usually start with a four-year degree.

What Does an Aerospace Engineer Do?

Aerospace scientists oversee research, compile data, and conduct experiments to discover new frontiers in aerospace theory and technology. Aerospace engineers, on the other hand, apply these new ideas, and refine them for an ever-changing world. 

An aerospace engineer by necessity will have advanced skills in mathematics and the physical sciences, as well as an understanding of computer programming and computer-aided design (CAD) systems.

According to the U.S. Board of Labor Statistics (BLS) — and depending on their skills, experience, and area of specialty — aerospace engineers may assume responsibilities that include:

  • Creating aircraft or spacecraft prototypes and designs
  • Performing aircraft or spacecraft modeling and making predictions using statistical tools
  • Ensuring products meet ethical and environmental standards
  • Managing the work of other engineers
  • Providing technical expertise to non-engineers 

In essence, aerospace engineers are involved down to the minutest detail in the design and manufacture of every component of anything that flies, be it aircraft, spacecraft, rocket, satellite, or drone.

Steps to Become an Aerospace Engineer

The field of aerospace engineering can be divided into two categories, according to the BLS.

  1. Aeronautical engineering — primarily focused on flight within the earth’s atmosphere, e.g., airplanes and helicopters
  2. Astronautical engineering — primarily focused on flight outside the earth’s atmosphere, e.g., ballistic missiles, spacecraft, and satellites.

Whichever category they choose, individuals interested in pursuing a career in aerospace engineering may find it beneficial to start tailoring their educational curriculum early. 

Earn a Degree

Since the field of aerospace engineering relies so heavily on mathematics, physical science and numeracy, candidates are encouraged to take advanced placement math and science classes such as trigonometry, calculus, chemistry, and physics beginning in high school. 

Candidates will then need to obtain a Bachelor of Science (BS) in aerospace engineering to enter the job market, according to the BLS.

Additionally, some aerospace engineers interested in management and leadership positions will pursue master’s degrees and PhDs, while others may seek out internships and advanced certifications to continue their education and broaden their career opportunities.

Find out if a degree with Athens State University is right for you.

Gain Work Experience

Aerospace engineering encompasses many exciting career paths, including:

  • Working in a governmental agency, usually in the defense sector; according to BLS, this will require some type of security clearance
  • Working for a traditional aerospace company, such as Boeing or Airbus, in developing and testing commercial or cargo aircraft
  • Working for a private company, such as SpaceX, that specializes in pioneering fields such as commercial space travel, satellite deployment, and space exploration

Being hired in any of these areas will most likely require a four-year degree. Many employers may also require hands-on work experience. Because of this, many aerospace engineering students seek out internships during their education to strengthen their chances of success. Additionally, many BS programs partner with local aerospace companies to offer real-world training to better prepare students to enter the workforce. 

Obtain Certifications

Unlike many engineering jobs, aerospace engineering doesn’t usually require an initial certification, but many engineers will find it beneficial to gain additional certifications to increase knowledge in a specific area, or to obtain leadership and management credentials. Some of those certifications could include:

  • Passing the Fundamentals of Engineering Exam (FE)
  • Passing the Professional Engineering Exam (PE)
  • Obtaining the Certified Technology Manager (CTM) certification through the Association of Technology, Management, and Applied Engineering (ATMAE)

Aerospace Engineer Salary and Job Growth

According to the BLS, the median salary for aerospace engineers in 2021 was $122,270. The BLS projects the job growth rate in the field to be 8%, which is as fast as the average growth for the labor market as a whole.

Take the First Step to Becoming an Aerospace Engineer Today

A shifting paradigm toward lowering or eliminating the use of fossil fuels has brought about the most revolutionary era in the aerospace industry since the advent of the jet engine in 1937, according to the Financial Times. Like the Wright brothers before them, today’s aerospace engineers are solving complex problems that hold high stakes for the world as a whole. Whether it be designing and developing electric airplanes and helicopters, or testing the viability of alternative fuels such as hydrogen, aerospace engineers are at the forefront of human innovation.

Learn how the Athens State University online Bachelor of Science in Aerospace Systems Management program can help you start on the path to this exciting and important career.

Recommended Readings

What Is a Technology Management Degree?
What Can I Do With a Technology Management Degree?
How to Become an Occupational Health and Safety Specialist


American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics — History of Aerospace Timeline
Financial Times, “Planemakers Step up Hydrogen Test in Push to Clean Aviation”
Indeed, “FAQ: What Is Aerospace Engineer Training?”
Indeed, “How to Become an Aerospace Engineer in 10 Steps”
National Parks Service, “The First Flight”
National Parks Service, “Road to the First Flight”
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Aerospace Engineers

You can get the tools you need to start your career, with Athens State University

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