Aerospace engineering is the process of designing, creating, building, and manufacturing anything that flies. Jets, helicopters, and even spaceships are all part of this field.

The two main branches of aerospace engineering are aeronautical and astronautical engineering. The former deals with any aircraft that flies within the earth’s atmosphere and the latter deals with anything that flies outside of the atmosphere.

What do Aeronautical Engineers do?

Aeronautical engineers build an aircraft that can fly within the earth’s atmosphere including military flying technology, commercial and passenger jets, helicopters, and even drones. Many people feel that Aerospace engineering only came to be in the 20th century, but scientists and dreamers have been designing machines to fly since the Renaissance and beyond.

The Complete Guide to Aerospace Engineering

What do Astronautical Engineers do?

Astronautical engineers design and build spacecraft. They have to deal with all the complexities of the harsh outer space environment. This field of engineering is quite literally “rocket science.” It is a field that requires a lot of intelligence and attention to detail, hence why would people joke about a comparatively simple task saying, “Hey, it’s not rocket science!”

What is the difference between Aeronautical Engineering and Aerospace Engineering?

There isn’t too much of a difference per se between Aeronautical and Aerospace engineering. Aeronautical engineering is more of a subset of aerospace engineering. Aeronautical engineers focus on building aircraft that fly within the earth’s atmosphere.

They get an education in the basics of math, physics, and chemistry with more advanced studies in propulsion, aerodynamics, sensors, power generation, and other scientific topics. Both, general aerospace engineers and Aeronautical engineers study these topics, but aerospace engineers may work on the spacecraft that goes outside of the earth’s atmosphere, in the field known as astronautical engineering.

The Complete Guide to Aerospace Engineering

What is the difference between Aerospace Engineering and Astronautical Engineering?

While Aerospace engineers study the aforementioned topics, astronautical engineers have an additional task. They must build and design spacecraft that function both within the earth’s atmosphere and outside of it. This includes topics like thermodynamics and quantum physics at the bachelor’s level, and things like space navigation, rocket propulsion and orbital mechanics at a graduate level.

What Does Aerospace Mean?

The word aerospace is a relatively new one as it was first used in the 1950s. The meaning of the word is anything pertaining to the earth’s atmosphere and/or outer space.

Aerospace is comprised of two-word roots. Aero has its roots in the Greek word “aer,” which means air, atmosphere or gases. You may recognize it from other words dealing with these topics like aerosol and anaerobic. Space was first used in relation to outer space in the late 1800s. However, it has been used to mean an interval of distance since the 1400s. In this case, it may refer to both.

What Does Aeronautical Mean?

The word aeronautical means anything related to building or flying aircraft within the earth’s atmosphere. It was first used in the 1780s in relation to the burgeoning aircraft of the era – hot air balloons.

The word is made up of a few different parts: aero, which you will recognize from aerospace, and nautical. The latter is from the Greek word “nautikos”, and means anything pertaining to ships and the sea. Of course, planes and spaceships do not go in the ocean, but they are ships of a sort.

What does Astronautical Mean?

Astronautical relates to the building and flying of aircraft that are meant to go into outer space. It contains the word for the scientists and travelers who pilot and live on these spacecraft, astronaut. The term was first used in the 1920s when the field of space travel became a possibility and interesting in society.

The prefix Astro comes from the Greek word of the same name meaning star. Thus, astronautical quite literally means, navigating a ship into the stars. Pretty, indeed.

The Complete Guide to Aerospace Engineering

What is Aerospace Technology?

Aerospace technology is a broad field since planes, spacecraft and other flying objects have so many components to them in modern times. It includes everything from propulsion systems to airplane wings and helicopter blades.

However, it is much more than just the mechanics involved in flying. It also includes things like security and operational software that pilots use to make airborne vehicles work. Think of every detail that goes into an aircraft – that’s aerospace technology.

What is a Rocket Scientist?

Technically speaking, a rocket scientist isn’t an official position. NASA, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, says there are rocket engineers and scientists, but there isn’t necessarily one position that combines the two disciplines. However, rocket engineers and scientists may work together on aerospace projects.

Rocket scientists may be thought of as people who work on propulsion systems for aerospace projects, or anyone who works in the aerospace field. How do you become one? Well, since it is synonymous with an aerospace engineer, the path is very similar. Just get a degree in the topic and you might consider telling people you are a rocket scientist!

History of Aerospace Engineering

The human mind has always looked to the sky to push the limits of what is possible. Well, in this regard you can say that these early dreamers were the first aerospace engineers, though they were probably very different than the ones we know today. Since the time of Da Vinci, brilliant minds have designed and sketched different flying machines, but never brought them to fruition.

The first humans took flight in the 1780s with the invention of the hot air balloon. Since that moment in time, a slew of inventors attempted to create a propulsion system for hot air balloons, and scientists and inventors began to study gliders which helped them learn about aerodynamics.

The Complete Guide to Aerospace Engineering

In 1903, the Wright brothers had their first famed flight, and everything went up from there. At first, aircraft were used primarily for military purposes in World War I, but after the innovation in the field of aerospace engineering, the commercial air travel industry exploded.

Since that time, every single aspect of air travel has immensely improved with each passing year from the development of new and more powerful engines to incredible navigation systems and manufacturing materials.

First Aerospace Engineers in History

Abbas Ibn Firnas

The first aerospace engineer lived in the 9th century. Abbas ibn Firnas was not only one of the first to study flight but was also a physician, poet, and a musician living in what is now Spain. He was inspired by another scientist of the era, Armen Firman, who had tried to jump off a cliff in a personal flying machine but failed, though he only had minor injuries as his device acted like a parachute to slow his fall.

After witnessing this fall, Abbas ibn Firnas studied the flight path, and after over 20 years, he built his own flying machine based on his findings. He improved on Firman’s design by creating movable wings, and this was a big success.

Though he flew for about 10 minutes, he injured his back in the landing. Through his rough landing, he came up with the idea of a tail to help control the flight path. After this, he wrote a book on avionics which was used at the University of Al-Andalusia. Now an airport in Baghdad, Iraq bears his name in honor of his flighty achievements.

Jean-François Pilâtre de Rozier and François Laurent d’Arlandes

This Aerospace duo were great minds of the 1700s. They worked together to fly a hot air balloon five miles, and this was the first time it happened, starting the fad of “ballooning” in the late 18th century. The balloon was made by the Montgolfier brothers.

The Complete Guide to Aerospace Engineering

Jean-François Pilâtre de Rozier was a science teacher and physician and François Laurent d’Arlendes a marquis. This first balloon had no steering capabilities, but even then the flight lasted for about 25 minutes. These new forays into the atmosphere allowed early aerospace engineers to study the relationship between altitude and the atmosphere.

Sir George Cayley

This was the time when people were getting up into the air on a more regular basis; some started to get curious about the mechanics of flight. Sir George Cayley was one of the first scientists to seriously study aerodynamics.

He is the originator of the terms “lift” and “drag” which are now basic concepts in the field. He built gliders, unmanned, and manned air vessels based on his experimental ideas.

The Complete Guide to Aerospace Engineering

Aerospace Engineering and NASA

NASA stands for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. In the US, the government bureau is responsible for aerospace research and national space exploration programs. Some of the best aerospace engineers in the country work at the agency, and many who study the subject list working for NASA as a goal.

What types of aerospace engineering jobs are available at NASA? Well, you could be an astronaut, a mathematician, a quality control inspector, a technical communications specialist or a mechanical engineer. All of these positions are important parts of the aerospace field and work together to create the most cutting-edge aerospace technology!

Aerospace Engineering and Space Programs

The best astronautical engineers work on programs that actually send people and machines to space. Some of the most recent space missions in the US include maintenance and research at the International Space Station and the exciting Curiosity Rover mission.

Both missions have aerospace engineers working together towards very different outcomes. The ISS is a space station where astronauts from different countries work together to make important discoveries about the differences between life on earth and life in space. The Curiosity Rover is a machine that was sent to The Red Planet to determine whether or not life has ever been possible there.

Of course, other space programs in the past have gained international acclaim including the Apollo missions, and the Hubble telescope. Aerospace engineers made all of these project possible.

The Complete Guide to Aerospace Engineering

Aerospace Engineering and Space Tourism/Travel

Most futurists agree that space tourism is going to be the future of aerospace engineering, although scientific research and exploration of the solar system will not stop. At the moment, Richard Branson’s company, Virgin Galactic is on the forefront of this burgeoning field. In May of 2018, the company’s spacecraft, the USS Unity, had its second successful launch, causing Branson to state that he expected to go into space himself within a year.

Right behind Virgin is Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’ company Blue Origin, which has had successful launches in recent months. The company plans to set up a base on the moon and may work in conjunction with NASA to do so. The field of aerospace engineering will expand in the future to include space tourism and travel, and many more engineers will be needed to fuel this growth.

Aerospace Engineering Industry

The aerospace engineering industry is very intriguing and exciting, especially in our modern era. It attracts people with scientific and mathematical knowledge, those with a curiosity for what makes things go up and those with a desire to improve on current technology.

As an aerospace engineer, you can expect to work for a company in the tech, defense or aircraft/space industry, or for the federal government. The industry itself is very dynamic, and many engineers find a position that suits their interests while offering plenty of opportunities for advancement.

Aerospace Engineering and The Tech Industry

Aerospace engineering has a lot of crossover with the tech industry, as most of the modern aerospace startups including Elon Musk’s Space X, Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic are headed by CEOs who are also adept in technology. As consumers become more involved in air and space travel, consumer technology will become even more important in conjunction with aerospace engineering.

The Complete Guide to Aerospace Engineering

Aerospace engineering firms require tech-centered positions like software developers and IT professionals and consultants familiar with the unique data-heavy and speedy processing requirements of the aerospace industry.

Aerospace Engineering and the Space Industry

The space industry is seamlessly tied to aerospace engineering. Engineers are needed to safely get people and supplies to space, and more importantly, back to planet earth. Potential jobs within the space industry for aerospace engineers include launch engineer, antenna engineer, and safety and training specialist.

Aerospace Engineering and Computer Industry

Computers and aerospace engineering blend well. Even during the 60s and 70s, the machines that got the man to the moon and into space for the first time had computers, though they were hardly as powerful or fast as the ones we use now. For example, the computer behind the guidance system of the Apollo missions had just 32kb of memory and 4kb of RAM, famously, less than the memory of a graphing calculator.

Now airplanes and spaceships have incredibly advanced systems that need computer programmers and software designers to create them. There are computerized flight simulation systems that require the same. Without computing power, software, and the computer industry the planes, helicopters, and rockets just wouldn’t go.

Aerospace Engineering and the Transportation Industry

The transportation industry includes everything and anything from highway construction to trains, planes and now space travel. People and freight travel on planes every single day of the year, even holidays and days that you typically take off. Aerospace engineers are what allow fast shipping for items purchased, speedy transportation of travelers, and shortly, the launch of the first adventurous space tourists!

There is plenty of room in the transportation industry for aerospace engineers including positions at the US Department of Transit or the FAA, the Federal Aviation Administration. The latter office oversees air traffic control and aviation safety.


Aerospace Engineering and The Travel Industry

Most people planning to travel long distance opt to fly. It is simply convenient and usually cost-effective when you factor in the time saved. Flight has allowed people to take day trips across the country, weekends in Thailand and more. It has helped to make the world a smaller place, making for easier exchange of goods, services, and ideas.

There are plenty of aerospace engineering positions in the travel industry. From building better navigation systems, more power-efficient entertainment systems that keep patrons from getting too restless on long flights, or a more fuel-efficient wing design, aerospace engineers are still needed in this well-established travel industry to keep it improving.

Aerospace Engineering and Defense Industry

There are numerous positions in the defense industry for aerospace engineers. Keep in mind that many of these positions require an official security clearance, so keep your record clean and stay out of trouble.

Aerospace engineers in defense not only design innovative and experimental aircraft but also work on missiles and other important facets of defense. While some disagree with the increase in military spending over recent years, it has done a lot of good for the defense industry which grew by almost 40,000 jobs in 2016, and the trend is projected to continue.

Perks of Being an Aerospace Engineer

The field of aerospace engineering has many perks besides working on innovative technology and getting the title of “rocket scientist.” The pay for many positions is usually pretty good, even in an entry-level position. The median salary is over $80,000, though it can go much higher than that.

Most full-time positions offer employee benefits like health, dental and vision insurance, paid time off, sick time and other perks of working for a great employer. Many also get employer-matched retirement accounts. Companies know aerospace engineers have worked hard to get to where they are and appreciate their talents.

The Complete Guide to Aerospace Engineering

As an aerospace engineer, you can also work for the government or the military. The pay grades are very straightforward, and the benefits are excellent. While it might be slightly less than working at a for-profit company, many engineers love the stability of a government job.

Top Aerospace Companies

There are many aerospace companies to choose from when you decide to become an aerospace engineer. You must be already aware of a few newer, innovative companies who are facing the great mystery of space tourism and exploration head-on, Blue Origin, SpaceX and Virgin Galactic. Many established earthbound companies are also excellent options.

Boeing is an established airplane manufacturer. Many commercial jets bear the Boeing name, and it is considered to be the largest aerospace company by some metrics. With over $86 billion of revenue each year, they have a hand in almost every avenue of aerospace including commercial, defense and space travel.

The Complete Guide to Aerospace Engineering

Airbus is the second largest aerospace company based on the metric of revenue. They are known for their giant Airbus 380 model, capable of taking over 800 passengers on a single flight if a single class layout is used. Airbus has offices on every continent, except Antarctica of course!

Lockheed Martin is another aerospace company well known for their focus on defense. They specialize in emergency aircraft, military aerospace projects, and space exploration. Their claim to fame is that they have built “more interplanetary spacecraft than all other US companies combined,” and they have built many of the spacecraft used on important NASA missions.

One company that makes to the list of top aerospace companies is Rolls Royce. They have been working on new airplane engines that could reduce carbon emissions and noise pollution around airports. They have also developed new vertical lift technology for fighter jets, removing the need for a long runway and allowing for a vertical landing, previously only available for helicopters.

Biggest Aerospace Manufacturers

While the aforementioned companies are also some of the largest manufacturers in the aerospace industry, there are plenty of others to add to the list.

United Technologies is often listed as the 3rd biggest manufacturer of aerospace technology. Their aerospace manufacturing company, Pratt & Whitney, has been influencing the field of air flight since 1925. They design and manufacture military and commercial plane engines, and their engines are used on 25% of all commercial flights in the world.

The Complete Guide to Aerospace Engineering

Northrop Grumman is another prolific company that focuses on security and defense technology. They do many things both in and out of aerospace, but they mainly focus on aircraft protection technology and services for both commercial and military air travel. They have also been developing aircraft for the manned flight for about 90 years.

Raytheon is an aerospace manufacturer, but they are not putting out engines or planes like the other companies listed here. They focus on missile defense, building satellites, and sensors to detect missiles, and creating technology to intercept them. They work on radar systems for military and commercial purposes and develop remote and unmanned aircraft.

Aerospace Engineering Career

A career in aerospace engineering is a wonderful idea if you have an interest in it and the proper training. The industry is projected to grow by about 6% between 2016 and 2026. Whether you are more into aerodynamics or navigation systems, you’ll likely be able to find your niche and have a satisfying career filled with innovation that will make a difference in the world

Best Industries for Aerospace Engineering Career

Aerospace engineers find careers in many industries. Here is an overview of a few of them and what you can expect to find there.


Within the modern travel industry, aerospace engineers can expect to work on projects that focus on improving existing technology. Increasing fuel efficiency, reducing emissions and reducing noise pollution are common goals between manufacturers and consumers that pose complex and yet interesting challenges for aerospace engineers.


When you work in defense as an aerospace engineer, you may become a designer, using CAD software to create plans for conceptual aircraft. Test engineers test missiles and other airborne objects for how they perform and test airplane parts for safety. Structural design engineers analyze the function of an existing aircraft.

The Complete Guide to Aerospace Engineering


To many, this seems like the most exciting area of the aerospace industry. Space is still a mostly unexplored frontier, yet it is poised to become a luxury tourist destination in a few years. You could become an actual astronaut as an aerospace engineer, but that is rare. Most engineers in the field, actually work in an office. You could work on any number of positions that will help shape the future of commercial and exploratory space travel.

Aerospace Engineering Jobs

Once you complete your studies as an aerospace engineer, you may think about the next options. There are plenty of careers suited for a variety of different personality types in the aerospace engineering field.

When you enter the field with a bachelor’s degree, you might start as a paid intern or research assistant, which will help you learn even more and prepare you for a long career in the aerospace field. Other entry-level positions include project engineer, design engineer, systems engineer and manufacturing engineer, all of which could lead to senior positions after several years of successful performance.

Those who study aerospace engineering at the graduate level may widen their job prospects to include teaching the subject at the university level. You may also receive higher pay when entering the workforce with masters or even doctorate.

Is a Career in Aerospace Engineering in Demand?

If you’re wondering whether pursuing an aerospace engineering degree is worth it, you put your mind at ease. That’s because a career in aerospace engineering is in demand with a six percent estimated growth rate between 2016 and 2026.

Individuals who graduate with an aerospace engineering degree often make more than typical graduates by 45 percent. So, pursuing a degree in this field is not only rewarding, but it offers the potential for high earnings.

Aerospace Engineering Job Description

Job descriptions vary depending on the specific position, but the basic description is often the same. As an aerospace engineer, you will be working on either the design, manufacturing, testing or analysis of spacecraft or aircraft.

You may become a specialist in one type of aerospace technology such as navigation, propulsion or building materials for the products you work on. The job requires a strong understanding of advanced scientific topics including thermodynamics, robotics, and mechanics.

Aerospace Engineering Jobs in the USA

There are plentiful jobs in this industry in America. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, this field is expected to grow by a rate of 6% by 2026. In the US, most aerospace engineers have jobs in aircraft manufacturing and maintenance.

Engineering jobs for aircraft and spaceships are centered in a few different physical areas. The Seattle area has many aerospace engineers compared to the rest of the nation because there are several aerospace companies in the area.

Los Angeles, Wichita and the area outside of Orlando where Cape Canaveral is located also have a high concentration of aerospace engineering positions. There are almost 70,000 aerospace positions total in the USA.

Aerospace Engineering Jobs in Canada

An aerospace engineer job was ranked as one of the best jobs to have in Canada in 2016. That’s because it has a great salary and contributes a lot to the country. Most of the aerospace engineering jobs in the country are centered around major cities. There are positions in Montreal, Calgary, Ottawa, Mississauga and elsewhere.

There are about 4,000 positions total in the country for this field, which may not sound like many but when you consider that the population of the whole country is only 36 million, less than the state of California alone, the prospects for a Canadian aerospace engineer seem a lot better.

Aerospace Engineering Jobs in Europe

Many aerospace companies call Europe home, including Airbus, a large manufacturer of aircraft. There are positions available in almost every European country including Poland, Germany, The Czech Republic, and Italy. If you have the proper visa or citizenship to get an aerospace engineering job in Europe, you will find that a decent salary and good benefits await you. Some countries, like Switzerland, are known for paying higher wages in this field than others.

Aerospace Engineering Jobs in Asia

Asia is a huge place, full of opportunity for almost anything, including aerospace engineering. Countries with a growing middle class like China and India are experiencing a technological boom, including growth in aerospace engineering as more people can afford air travel.

In India, on an average an aerospace engineer makes $12,000/year, but, this is considered a great wage there. In Japan, employees can make the equivalent of about $115,000. So you can see, the range of Asian salaries can vary widely.

Aerospace Engineering Jobs in Australia

There are about 11,600 aerospace engineering jobs in Australia. With a population of only 24 million people, that’s a larger percentage than Canada or the United States! The industry in Australia is expected to grow steadily over the next few years, with about 2,000 new jobs projected in the next few years.

The salary for aerospace engineers is higher than the average salary for other residents. The greatest concentration of aerospace engineering jobs in Australia is located in the state of New South Wales, where large cities like Sydney, Canberra, and Newcastle are located.

Aerospace Engineering Jobs in Russia

The Russian aerospace industry is expected to see a 12.1% growth in the next year. Last year, a Russian aircraft company, Irkut Corporation, tested a new aircraft they hope will compete with Western passenger jets from Airbus and Boeing. While not much information was gleaned from the test by outside observers, it is clear Russia wants to position itself to compete in the global market.

The average salary for a Russian aerospace engineer is around $17,000, higher than the national average salary, though lower than other countries. When considering working in such an environment, you must consider that the cost of living is also lower there.

Best Aerospace Companies to Work For

The best company to work for in any industry is a subjective decision, but there are certain things that can’t be denied. Keep in mind your mileage may vary and it’s really best to go with the position and company that seems best for you personally. Here are some of the companies that top more than a few lists.


Boeing is one of the top aircraft companies in the world. They have offices in 70 countries worldwide. It is one of the largest global employers of aerospace employees, with over 158,000 on their roster. Between all the different types of products they make, including satellites, rockets, commercial and military aircraft and the important work they do with NASA, any aerospace engineer can likely find a niche that fits their interests.


For those who are not into the defense side of the aerospace industry, Airbus may be a good fit. Only 18% of their revenue comes from defense contracts, much lower than most other aerospace companies. The company has been increasing profits for several years in a row, and that trend doesn’t appear to be slowing down anytime soon.

The Aerospace Corporation

It is a well-known fact that it can be harder to get a job if you are on the older side. However, one aerospace company, The Aerospace Corporation, is well known for being a great place for employees above 50 years old. It was even listed as a top company by AARP (American Association of Retired Persons.) It is a smaller company with only 3,700 employees, which pales in comparison to the hundreds of thousands at the larger companies. Some may prefer a smaller or larger company; it’s all just up to personal preference.

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