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Aerospace Engineering

What Aerospace Engineers Do

Aerospace engineers design primarily aircraft, spacecraft, satellites, and missiles. In addition, they create and test prototypes to make sure that they function according to design.


Aerospace engineers typically do the following:

  • Coordinate and direct the design, manufacture, and testing of aircraft and aerospace products
  • Assess project proposals to determine whether they are technically and financially feasible
  • Determine whether proposed projects will be safe and meet defined goals
  • Evaluate designs to ensure that products meet engineering principles, customer requirements, and environmental regulations
  • Develop criteria for design, quality, completion, and sustainment after delivery
  • Ensure that projects meet required standards
  • Inspect malfunctioning or damaged products to identify sources of problems and possible solutions

Aerospace engineers develop technologies for use in aviation, defense systems, and spacecraft. They may focus on areas such as aerodynamic fluid flow; structural design; guidance, navigation, and control; instrumentation and communication; robotics; or propulsion and combustion.

Aerospace engineers may design specific aerospace products, such as commercial and military airplanes and helicopters; remotely piloted aircraft and rotorcraft; spacecraft, including launch vehicles and satellites; and military missiles and rockets.

The following are the two common types of aerospace engineers:

Aeronautical engineers work with aircraft. They are involved primarily in designing aircraft and propulsion systems and in studying the aerodynamic performance of aircraft and construction materials. They work with the theory, technology, and practice of flight within the Earth’s atmosphere.

Astronautical engineers work with the science and technology of spacecraft and how they perform inside and outside the Earth’s atmosphere. This includes work on small satellites such as cubesats, and traditional large satellites.  

Aeronautical and astronautical engineers face different environmental and operational issues in designing aircraft and spacecraft. However, the two fields overlap a great deal because they both depend on the basic principles of physics.

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Aerospace Engineers, at​ (visited April 13, 2023).

How to Become an Aerospace Engineer

Aerospace engineers typically need a bachelor’s degree in aerospace engineering or a related field to enter the occupation. Aerospace engineers who work on projects that are related to national defense may need a security clearance. Some types and levels of clearance require U.S. citizenship.


Aerospace engineers typically need a bachelor’s degree in aerospace engineering or a related field. High school students interested in studying aerospace engineering should take classes in chemistry, physics, and math.

Bachelor’s degree programs in engineering usually include classroom, laboratory, and field courses in subjects such as stability and control, structures, and mechanics.

College students may have an opportunity to participate in cooperative education programs or internships. through partnership with local businesses, these programs allow students to gain practical experience while they complete their education.

Some colleges and universities offer a 5-year program that leads to both a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree. A graduate degree may allow an engineer to work as an instructor at a university or to do research and development.

Employers may prefer to hire graduates of aerospace engineering programs accredited by a professional association such as ABET. A degree from an accredited program is usually required to become licensed.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

Licensure is not required entry-level aerospace engineer positions. Experienced engineers may obtain a Professional Engineering (PE) license, which allows them to oversee the work of other engineers, sign off on projects, and provide services directly to the public. 

State licensure generally requires a bachelor's or higher degree from an ABET-accredited engineering program, a passing score on the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam, several years of relevant work experience, and a passing score on the PE exam.

Each state issues its own license. Most states recognize licensure from other states, as long as the licensing state’s requirements meet or exceed their own licensure requirements. Several states require continuing education for engineers to keep their licenses.


Aerospace engineers who gain experience or who have additional education or credentials may advance into technical or supervisory positions. Those with leadership skills also may become engineering managers or project management specialists.

Important Qualities

Analytical skills. Aerospace engineers must be able to evaluate project design elements and propose improvements, if necessary.

Business skills. Meeting federal standards in aerospace engineering requires business knowledge, including commercial law. Project management or systems engineering skills may also be useful.

Communication skills. Aerospace engineers must be able to explain, both orally and in writing, the details of their designs. They may need to convey information to a variety of audiences, including nontechnical ones.

Interpersonal skills. Aerospace engineers often work on teams and must be able to interact with other types of engineers and with nontechnical team members.

Math skills. Aerospace engineers use calculus, trigonometry, and other math in their analysis, design, and troubleshooting work.

Problem-solving skills. Aerospace engineers upgrade designs and troubleshoot problems to improve aircraft, such as for increased fuel efficiency or safety.

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Aerospace Engineers, at (visited April 13, 2023).​

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