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). It is not possible to become a Chartered Engineer or Incorporated Engineer without a relevant qualification. 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.
‘’’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.