What can you do with an aeronautical or aerospace engineering degree? | Top Universities

What can you do with an aeronautical or aerospace engineering degree?

By Holly Hemmings

Updated February 29, 2024 Updated February 29, 2024

We discuss all of the career possibilities that a degree in aeronautical or aerospace engineering could lead to and the best possible ways to get started after graduating.

Aeronautical and aerospace engineering degrees look at the engineering of vehicles capable of flight. This can include airplanes, helicopters, spacecrafts, satellites, drones, and missiles.  

During their studies, students will be taught to design, build, test, and do maintenance work on each of these machines. These degrees will produce graduates who are able to source and test data effectively, analyse problems and come up with creative solutions, work well as part of a team, have great attention to detail and demonstrate a broad knowledge about subjects such as mechanical engineering, mathematics, and physics. 

There are many great universities where students can study aeronautical or aerospace engineering. The QS World University Rankings by Subject 2023 looks at Mechanical, Aeronautical and Manufacturing Engineering degrees and has found that Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the United States has the best programme in the world, followed by Sanford University, also in the United States, and Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands

Despite the top three schools being found in the United States and Europe, there are plenty of high-ranking universities offering the chance to study aeronautical and aerospace engineering all over the world.  

The best school in Asia is the National University of Singapore which ranked 10th overall. In Latin America, there is Universidade de São Paulo which ranked 76th. In Oceania, there is The University of New South Wales which ranked 49th and in Africa, Cairo University ranks the highest for the subject at 151-200.  

Even outside of the highest-ranking programmes, there are many universities which offer excellent courses in aerospace and aeronautical engineering such as Loughborough University in the UK which ranked 62nd in the world and received a very high score for citations per paper, highlighting the breadth of their research. 

Read on as we discover some of the most common career paths followed by aeronautical and aerospace engineering graduates. 

Aeronautical engineering

An aeronautical engineer is a very broad term covering a wide range of tasks within the field of aeronautical engineering. It can include work in the design sector, the research sector, physically building the aviation devices, or maintenance and testing of machinery such as civil and military airplanes, military weapons, satellites, and space vehicles.  

The role may cover more than one category or more than one type of machine but sometimes it is more specific, particularly if a person is working for a large company as part of a large team. 

To become an aeronautical engineer, students will need to be able to use design software such as AutoCAD, which is the industry standard for many places, as well as other advanced technologies to aid in production and testing.  

The ability to problem-solve is essential in this career as new considerations such as advanced materials and environmental impact will be constantly changing and evolving in line with emerging research. 

Aeronautical researcher

Aeronautical researchers oversee the process of researching new technologies and systems that can contribute to the evolution of the design and construction process. They will analyse emerging research, conduct their own experiments, compare findings with external research and write reports to draw conclusions.  

The role could be focused on one specific area of study such as materials, equipment, finding ways to increase propulsion, testing new engines, propellors and wing options or tackling in-flight issues. Alternatively, it could be more general and cover more than one of these topics. 

A career as an aeronautical researcher will require data analysis skills as well as an ability to successfully manage a project from start to finish. They will often need to place orders and manage materials as well as managing a team and making sure that any research experiments adhere to health and safety regulations as well as time and budget restrictions. 

Aeronautical designer

An aeronautical designer will need to use the research that has been conducted in order to design new machinery and mechanical parts according to the size specification and design requirements proposed by the client. 

An aeronautical designer requires knowledge of design software and careful attention to detail to ensure that each mechanical part is able to function properly.  

The design as a whole must comply to the findings of research to ensure that the vehicle is able to function optimally, and the materials must be as cost-effective as possible to ensure that the budget of the project is being managed well. 

Aeronautical maintenance technician

Becoming an aeronautical maintenance technician will involve testing machinery, diagnosing any problems, and repairing or replacing specific parts as needed. Some aeronautical maintenance technicians may specialise in a specific area of the aircraft or a specific part such as the engine, hydraulics, or electrical system. Others work more generally. 

As well as a degree, aeronautical maintenance technicians will need to be formally accredited by the governing body of their country or region, for example, the US Federal Aviation Administration. This confirms that a technician is fully qualified and capable of maintaining certain mechanical parts or certain aircrafts. 

Aeronautical consultant

Consultancy is a broad business-related career path; aeronautical consultancy is a very specific niche within this. Aeronautical consultants offer their expertise to provide business solutions to an aerospace or aeronautical engineering company.  

This may include assessing business practice, materials and construction procedures, performing safety audits and recommending alternatives to improve the profitability, safety and efficiency of a company and the machinery they produce. 

Aeronautical consultants need to be authorised by an accredited consultancy firm which ensures their knowledge of the machinery, the aeronautical market, and the best business procedures. 

Other career options

An aeronautical or aerospace engineering degree opens the door to many career options. These include the careers mentioned above or others such as: 

  • Aeronautical testing – executing reliability tests to ensure that each machine being produce is working as it should 

  • Teaching 

  • Part specialists – the design, testing and repair of a specific part such as fixed wings, rotary wings, software and rocket engines 

  • Engineering management 

  • Airline operation 

Frequently asked questions

What is aeronautical and aerospace engineering?

Aeronautical and aerospace engineering looks at the design and production of machinery that is capable of flight. These may include airplanes, jets, helicopters, satellites, spacecraft, military vehicles, drones, and missiles. 

What is the difference between aeronautical and aerospace engineering?

Courses for aeronautical and aerospace engineering are usually very similar. The only real difference is that aeronautical engineering tends to focus on machinery that flies within the earth’s atmosphere such as airplanes, missiles, and helicopters. Aerospace engineering focuses more on vehicles that are designed to leave the atmosphere such as rockets and satellites. 

What is the expected salary for someone with an aeronautical or aerospace engineering degree?

The expected salary for an aeronautical or aerospace engineer can vary depending on the country you are working in, the specific role you are working in, and the company that is employing you. According to Indeed, the average salary for an aeronautical or aerospace engineer in the UK is around £40,000. 

Which university is best for aeronautical and aerospace engineering?

In the QS World University Rankings by Subject 2023, the best university to study aeronautical engineering is Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). This is followed by Stanford University and Delft University of Technology. 

What do aeronautical or aerospace engineers do?

Aeronautical or aerospace engineer’s jobs may include researching, designing, building, testing, or repairing aircraft and machinery. Depending on their role, they may be working in one sector, on one type of vehicle or even with one specific part of a piece of machinery. Alternatively, they may also work more generally. 

What companies offer aeronautical or aerospace engineering jobs?

There are many companies that offer aerospace or aeronautical engineering jobs including: 

  • NASA 

  • SpaceX 

  • Boeing 

  • British Airways 

  • Northrop Grumman 

  • Airbus 

  • Rolls Royce 

  • Royal Airforce 

  • Ministry of Defence 

  • Collins Aerospace 

How do I become an aeronautical or aerospace engineer?

According to Indeed, a bachelor’s degree is a great place to start. An internship while studying may also be a good idea as it will give the student work experience which they can put on their CV. A graduate degree is also advantageous, but not a strict requirement. 

After graduating, students will need to apply to entry-level positions or apprenticeships where they will work under supervision for a number of years. If they are unable to find an apprenticeship or employment, they may choose to apply for a job in a related field, for instance working as an aerospace or aeronautical technician. 

It is important to note that if graduates want to work within a government agency such as NASA or the UK ministry of defence, they will need legal citizenship in that country. Also, some roles may ask for official accreditation from a regional governing body. This could become increasingly important as the graduate advances in their career. 

Is aeronautical or aerospace engineering a good career?

Aeronautical and aerospace engineering can lead to a fulfilling and profitable career within some excellent companies. It can, therefore, be considered a great career option. 

This article was originally published in February 2024 .

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