An aeronautical engineer specialises in the design and engineering behind any flying machine.
The term is most commonly used to refer to aircraft engineers.
Aeronautics is technically translated as ‘’sailing the sky’’.
An aeronautical engineer is pivotal in the study, design, development, construction, maintenance and repair of aircraft that stay within the Earth’s atmosphere.
All elements of the design process will involve an engineer from the initial design stage to ensuring the right materials are used in the airframe.
Aircraft design involves a wide range of specialists and expertise across a spectrum of different technical disciplines.
Due to the highly technical nature of the role most engineers will look to specialise in a particular area.
Aeronautics in its broadest sense also refers to spacecraft and satellites and the two disciplines are heavily inter-related.
Engineers will not work purely on passenger-carrying vehicles and are likely to help develop weapon systems as well.
Salaries will vary depending on experience and employer but graduates are likely to start on around £25,000 increasing to £40,000 with around 3 -5 years’ experience.
Senior roles will have starting salaries of around £60,000 but you can expect to earn more than this with a particular specialism or in a demand area of expertise.
- This is a highly mathematical and scientific role and you will be expected to apply mathematics, physics and chemistry in a research environment to help develop processes relating to aircraft.
- Testing the physical properties of materials to ensure they are fit for purpose. This is likely to be performed in a controlled environment which allows materials to be tested in extreme conditions.
- You will advise on which materials and components can be used to optimise the trade-off between technological and cost efficiency. You will be expected to project manage and meet budgets and deadlines. You may also have a role in pitching a business idea to raise funds for future development.
- Development and design of engines and electronics. This will involve using specialist modelling, design tools and computer programmes.
- Testing aircraft to ensure safety requirements are met. This might include involvement in test flights or flight programmes to monitor take-off distances, stall speeds, manoeuvrability and landing capacities.
- Maintaining, repairing and servicing aircraft including writing instructions on how aircraft or their components are to be serviced in the future.
- Accident inspection.
You will need to be committed to aeronautical engineering and have a strong background in the physical sciences, chemistry and mathematics.
In order to get onto a relevant course you will need a strong set of A-levels in science or maths based subjects (NVQs are not acceptable).
Full details can be found at the Engineering Council of the UK.
There are aeronautical specific courses offered at some leading universities and it is worth visiting the UCAS website to look at the range of courses available.
Several courses offer sandwich placements and this experience in industry can be hugely beneficial with many graduates receiving job offers from their sandwich year.
However, firms will not necessarily require an aeronautics degree and it is also possible to take a range of other degree subjects as long as they have a background in physics/mathematics/applied science and engineering.
It is also important to remember that there is a wide range of processes involved in the design and construction of an aircraft and degrees in computer software/ electronic engineering and process engineering will be equally desirable.
It is also possible to complete an MSc in aeronautical/aerospace engineering if your undergraduate qualification is in a related subject.
A scientific/ mathematics background and specific qualifications are pre-requisites.
You will need to have a practical but analytical mind, exceptional attention to detail and the ability to solve complex problems.
You will have to relay complex technical theories to suppliers and buyers and will need strong communication skills.
You will also need to be assertive and confident and be able to work with clients and managers to agree budgets, timescales and specifications.
You will also need to liaise with clients on regulatory developments.
You will likely be responsible for managing a project and staff to ensure that deadlines and budgets are met.
You will also need commercial awareness.
There may be specific physical requirements such as having 20:20 vision for some roles.
For some roles you will need to have security clearance.
Working hours will normally be nine to five although you may have to work late to meet deadlines and perform night tests in certain roles.
You will normally work from a single location but you should expect to spend time working off-site or with suppliers and buyers on location.
This may include extended periods away from home if working on secondment.
While you will need to be self-motivated, most projects involve working within a team environment or with other professionals.
This may include working with both civilian and military personnel.
While there is a well established aeronautics industry in the UK there are also plenty of opportunities to work abroad or with a specific airline or firm.
Most major employers are global businesses.
Most aeronautical engineers work for large firms with well established offices and major employers will provide a range of health and pension benefits.
This is a highly competitive field and academic excellence will be a key defining criterion.
However, there are roles available in a wide range of diversified disciplines and while you may not receive your dream posting other roles may prove equally fulfilling.
Most graduate recruiters operate on a placement basis under which you gain experience across a range of the firm’s business lines for six month periods.
This may also include secondment abroad.
It is advisable to obtain relevant work experience but this can be difficult to source and you should apply early.
Year in Industry is a useful link that sources 6 -12 month industrial placements across a range of businesses.
‘’’Private Sector’’’ – a list of UK based engineering firms specialising in this arena are available at Society of British Aerospace Engineers.
The most significant employer in the UK is BAE Systems.
‘’’Regulatory agencies’’’ – such as the Civil Aviation Authorities (“CAA”).
‘’’Other’’’ – research centres, engineering bodies and universities.
It is also possible to pursue a research and/or teaching career within universities or research bodies.
There is the scope for significant progression and specialisation.
It is possible to go into industry or sales roles or take on more senior project management roles.
Also known as…
- Flight Engineer/ Mechanic
- Air Traffic Controller
- Aerospace engineer
- Avionics mechanic
What’s it really like?
Pritum Patel, Typhoon Weapons Integration Specialist at BAE Systems.
How long have you been in this particular job / industry?
I have been in my current role as a Weapons Integration Engineer for around 6 months now.
However, I have undertaken four varied roles so far, as part of the 2-year Engineering Graduate Development Framework at BAE Systems.
What did you do before this job?
I came straight into the industry after graduating from the University of Leeds two years ago
What do you do in a typical day at work?
My role includes co-ordinating and undertaking weapons integration activities between suppliers, customers and the relevant system design teams within BAE Systems and our four partnered nations, on the Eurofighter Typhoon programme.
This includes everything from initial requirements capture (e.g. for a new weapon on the aircraft) to supporting flight trials to qualify the safe carriage, release and jettison of the weapon for operation in-service.
This means verifying that the aircraft and weapon have been integrated with all the interfacing systems as required but, above all, certifying that the aircraft is safe to operate with the weapon.
My current responsibilities are specific to the Meteor missile programme and involve generating and maintaining detailed documentation which brings together the requirements and specifications of both the missile and the aircraft.
This often involves dealing with specialists, both internally and within supplier and partnered companies and can involve resolving technical issues to drive the integration programme forward.
What do you like about the job?
One of the best things about the job is the variety.
Having the opportunity to work with both ends of the supply chain but also to work with our counterparts in the four nations is a great benefit.
There are also frequent opportunities to travel on customer and supplier visits.
What do you dislike about the job?
Working as part of a four-nation programme can be very challenging and due to the nature of the military aerospace industry, the size and complexity of the programmes can give rise to lengthy timescales.
Things therefore tend to move a lot more slowly in comparison to say, the automotive industry, which can be frustrating at times.
What advice would you give to someone thinking of doing this job?
I would say the role that I am in requires someone who is technically minded, a good problem solver but also has good interpersonal skills, which come into play when dealing with different people and different cultures.
It is also important to have a good background and/or qualifications in engineering, particularly when entering the company on the engineering graduate scheme, as I did.
The best bit of advice for anyone wanting to work for BAE Systems is to research the company and career opportunities online.
Whether you are an apprentice, graduate or experienced professional, the chances are, there will be something which appeals.
It is also a good idea to speak to someone who already works there to gain a better understanding of what goes on in the industry.
What job(s) do you think you might do after this role (i.e. career progression)?
Having only been in my current role for around 6 months now, I intend to continue my career in weapons integration for the time-being.
However, I would eventually like to work my way up the chain towards a more senior role within the department.
After that, it really depends on what takes my fancy at the time.
With BAE Systems being such a huge diverse company, there are always lots of opportunities for progression and development.
What other inside-information can you give to help people considering this career?
There is no inside-information as such.
The best thing to do is just to research the company and career opportunities and if possible, to speak to people who work there.