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Aerospace Engineering Career Advice

If you are wondering how to become an Aerospace Engineer, below are tips and advice on training for and beginning careers in this area of the engineering profession and job prospects for aerospace / aeronautical engineers in the UK.

The Job Description
The role of aerospace engineers is to draw on a wide range of scientific and technological expertise, in order to design, test and develop military and civil aircraft, flight simulators, weapons systems (including missiles), satellites or space vehicles, as well as working to maintain them. There needs to be close attention to flight safety and standards, while working towards the costing and performance targets of the employer. Aerospace engineering is a broad term and it is usually necessary to specialise in a certain field, such as design, research, testing, manufacturing or maintenance. The aerospace industry is becoming increasingly competitive with the growing popularity of air travel, which means a good supply of jobs and potential for excellent rates of pay for high performers. Government legislation and increasing public pressure make the environmental impact of work in the aerospace / aeronautical industry ever more important. Duties include:

Research and Development
• Formulating ideas for structural parts, such as wings, engines or fuselage.
• Producing avionic systems, including navigation and communications instrumentation.
• Developing research ideas into technical specifications for new craft, components and systems, using computer-aided design (CAD) software packages.
• Making estimates for project cost and timescales.

Testing
• Conducting ground based and flight-testing programmes on prototype aircraft.
• Collecting and analysing performance and safety test data.
• Modifying design plans to ensure the highest possible standards prior to production.

Production and Maintenance
• Designing and improving manufacturing practices and systems.
• Assembling crafts in line with design plans and timescales.
• Completing projects in strict accordance with contractual obligations.
• Conducting regular maintenance of aircraft.

Person Specification
The key personal attributes of a good aerospace engineer include:
• A creative, but methodical approach to problem solving and good attention to detail
• Strong mathematical and IT skills
• Experience with computer aided design (CAD) or manufacturing (CAM) software
• Good interpersonal and communication skills
• In depth technical knowledge
• Good project management abilities
• Financial awareness, in order to meet within budgetary requirements
• Commitment to stay up-to-date with industry developments
• Good teamwork skills and the ability to work on initiative
• Thorough understanding of engineering licence regulations.

How to become an aerospace engineer
A degree in one of the following disciplines can be a distinct advantage:
aeronautical or mechanical engineering; physics / applied physics;
production / manufacturing engineering; electrical or electronic engineering;
computer science or software engineering; mathematics.

Entrance to the industry usually requires a degree and often a high honours degree and it is essential to become an Incorporated (IEng) or Chartered Engineer (CEng). Diplomas could be accepted for technician posts.

A postgraduate qualification is also an advantage and a masters in aerospace / aeronautical engineering is of benefit if your first degree was in another subject. Postgraduate study allows academic specialisation but some employers prefer employment experience. This can be gained during a sandwich placement or vacation work.

Training and Development
Aerospace engineers usually begin on a company graduate training scheme and work towards an engineering licence. Professional engineering governing bodies recommend becoming accredited with incorporated or chartered status in order to enhance your career prospects. This can be achieved by registering with a professional organisation and applying to the Engineering Council to get the ball rolling.

Chartered engineers generally work at strategic level, helping to plan, research and develop designs and management processes. Project management can involve organising incorporated engineers and technicians. Incorporated engineers specialise in direct management of engineering operations. Assessment to qualify as either is conducted against UK-SPEC, which is the UK Standard for Professional Engineering Competence and was developed by professional bodies, employers and the Engineering Council.

The Pay
Salaries can vary greatly, but averages according to September 2006 surveys:
Starting: £20k - £26k
Three to five years' experience: £30k - £45k
Senior levels: £45k - £55k.

Sources and useful resources:
Royal Aeronautical Society - www.raes.org.uk
www.learndirect-advice.co.uk/helpwithyourcareer/jobprofiles/profiles/profile374/
The Women's Engineering Society (WES) - www.wes.org.uk