Aircraft Engineer: Job Description & Salary

Learn what an aircraft engineer does and what their responsibilities are. Below, you will find information on salary and career outlooks for the field as well as what degree is needed to become an aircraft engineer. Schools offering Engineering & Technology Management degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

Aircraft Engineer: Career Overview

Aircraft engineers are a particular type of aerospace engineer, sometimes called aeronautical engineers, who predominantly work with airplanes or helicopters. Work as an aircraft engineer may take place in either a civilian or military context. The following information should give you an idea as to whether a career as an aircraft engineer would be right for you.

Degree Required Bachelor's degree
Education Field of Study Aerospace engineering, other engineering fields/sciences related to aircraft
Key Skills Writing proficiency, mathematical aptitude, critical-thinking and problem-solving capabilities
Licensure A Professional Engineer (PE) license is an option as one progresses in his/her career.
Job Growth (2018-2028)* 2% (aerospace engineers)
Median Salary (2018)* $115,220 (aerospace engineers)

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

How Do I Become an Aircraft Engineer?

Someone who has set out to become an aircraft engineer would benefit from focusing their efforts on the sciences, such as physics or chemistry, as well as high-level math classes like calculus and trigonometry. Engineering summer camps are also an option for young students looking for a more hands on experience with the field of engineering in general. For those interested in the design aspects, knowledge of programming languages such as C++ and a general familiarity with computers would also be beneficial for running simulations. A bachelor's degree will generally meet the minimum requirements for entering this field, but some universities offer specialized 3+2 programs, which take five years to complete and grant both a bachelor's degree and a master's degree upon graduation.

Where Do Aircraft Engineers Work?

In the modern age, many aircraft engineers work out of offices, since much of the work is now done with the help of computers. Some monitor the test flights of experimental aircraft, both for government agencies and the military as well as aerospace companies. Other opportunities for field work are available to aircraft engineers who put their knowledge to use determining the causes for failure after a crash.

How Is the Field of Aircraft Engineering Doing?

Recent data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) suggests that the field of aerospace engineering in general is growing; employment is predicted to increase 2% over the ten-year window from 2018-2028. There is always a drive to make aircraft more efficient, both in terms of travel time (speed) and fuel consumed. Some of this growth can also be attributed to the growing commercial spaceflight market, which may not directly affect the prospects of aircraft engineers in particular. The recent drive towards automation in many areas also offers new opportunities for aircraft engineers, working towards the development of new and more capable unmanned aerial vehicles.

What Is a Typical Income for an Aircraft Engineer?

As is the case for most careers, the typical income for an aircraft engineer can vary significantly, depending on both experience and location. According to the BLS, the median salary in 2018 for the more general category of aerospace engineer was $115,220, with the bottom 10% of these professionals making about $71,640 and the highest 10% earning as much as $164,210 or more. One of the highest mean salaries was in scientific research and development services, while salaries on the semiconductor and other electronic component manufacturing end came in a little lower.

What Other Careers Are Similar to Being an Aircraft Engineer?

Aircraft engineers have a natural counterpart in members of the aerospace engineering field that focus more on spacecraft than aircraft, who are often referred to as astronautical engineers. They work on many aspects of the launch of spacecraft, including the propulsion systems that operate under the same conditions as aircraft systems. For individuals who prefer to be more hands on, a career as an aircraft mechanic may be a better fit, as opposed to the simulation-based work of an aircraft engineer. Aerospace engineering and operations technicians form a bridge between the mechanics and engineers, maintaining test facilities and operating simulation programs as well as installing components onto aircraft as they undergo testing.

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