General Information

Aerospace engineering consists of the design, testing, development, and manufacture of aircraft, missiles, and spacecraft. The engineer may have special knowledge in one or more of the following; celestial mechanics, thermodynamics, acoustics, propulsion, aerodynamics, guidance systems, and structures.

Aerospace engineers create extraordinary machines, from airplanes that weigh over a half a million pounds to spacecraft that travel over 17,000 miles an hour. They design, develop, and test aircraft, spacecraft, and missiles and supervise the manufacture of these products. Aerospace engineers who work with aircraft are called aeronautical engineers, and those working specifically with spacecraft are astronautical engineers.

Aerospace engineers develop new technologies for use in aviation, defense systems, and space exploration, often specializing in areas such as structural design, guidance, navigation and control, instrumentation and communication, or production methods. They often use computer-aided design (CAD) software, robotics, and lasers and advanced electronic optics. They also may specialize in a particular type of aerospace product, such as commercial transports, military fighter jets, helicopters, spacecraft, or missiles and rockets. Aerospace engineers may be experts in aerodynamics, thermodynamics, celestial mechanics, propulsion, acoustics, or guidance and control systems.

Aerospace engineers typically are employed in the aerospace product and parts industry, although their skills are becoming increasingly valuable in other fields. For example, in the motor vehicles manufacturing industry, aerospace engineers design vehicles that have lower air resistance and, thus, increased fuel efficiency.

Employment in the United States

Aerospace engineers held about 78,000 jobs in 2002. Most worked in the aerospace product and parts manufacturing industries. Federal Government agencies, primarily the U.S. Department of Defense and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, provided 10 percent of jobs. Architectural, engineering and related services, scientific research and development services, and navigational, measuring, electromedical, and control instruments manufacturing industry firms accounted for most of the remaining jobs.

Employment of aerospace engineers is expected to decline over the projection period. Foreign competition and the slowdown in air travel will limit the number of new jobs for aerospace engineers related to the design and production of commercial aircraft over the projection period. Despite the expected decline in employment, favorable opportunities are expected for aerospace engineers through 2012 because the number of degrees granted in aerospace engineering has declined greatly over the last decade due to the perceived lack of opportunities in this occupation. The decline in degree production has reached the point that the number trained in aerospace engineering may not be adequate to replace the large numbers of aerospace engineers who are expected to leave the occupation, especially due to retirement, over the 2002-12 period. Some employment opportunities also will occur in industries not typically associated with aerospace, such as motor vehicle manufacturing.

Median annual earnings of aerospace engineers were $72,750 in 2002. The middle 50 percent earned between $59,520 and $88,310. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $49,640, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $105,060. Median annual earnings in the industries employing the largest numbers of aerospace engineers in 2002 were:
- Federal government $81,830
- Architectural, engineering, and related services 74,890
- Aerospace product and parts manufacturing 70,920

According to a 2003 salary survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers, bachelor’s degree candidates in aerospace engineering received starting salary offers averaging $48,028 a year, master’s degree candidates were offered $61,162, and Ph.D. candidates were offered $68,406.


1. Unknown author; Occupational Outlook Handbook 2004-2005 Edition; U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics; Washington DC USA; 2004; Available