Reach for the skies, ladies and gents. Literally! Whether we’re talking about those plucky Wright brothers with the first aeroplane, Mr Frank Whittle and his jet engine or NASA and their spaceship production line, the world of aerospace and avionics engineering is ‘fast-paced’ to say the least.
In this industry, you’ll have the chance to work on some of the fastest, most impressive feats of human engineering ever. Rockets that can travel tens of thousands of miles an hour have to be engineered to perfection. Aeroplanes that might carry hundreds of people across the world at a time need to be flawless. Enter aerospace and avionics engineers.
What is the difference between an aerospace and avionics engineer?
An aerospace engineer is responsible for designing and building the structure of whatever craft it is. An avionics engineer focuses on the electronic systems used within it, i.e. the way it communicates with basecamp, monitors fuel systems and reports on altitudes, temperatures and pressures.
There are two clear divisions in aerospace engineering:
Aeronautical engineering focuses on all craft inside the atmosphere, while astronautical engineering focuses on everything zooming about outside it. Given the dramatic differences in environment between the two, they are two very clear and separate specialisms. I’m sure an astronaut wouldn’t want the chap that designs microlites getting involved with the plans for building their rocket.
When it comes to avionics, however, we’re talking infrastructure, computers, coding languages and a whole lot of wire. Given that the autopilot function of most commercial airliners has four separate systems in case the first three fail, nothing is left to chance. When hundreds of lives are at risk, if the correct calculation isn’t made or a potential error isn’t checked, the consequences do not bear thinking about.
How do I become an aerospace or avionics engineer?
So how do you get involved then? Well a degree in engineering certainly helps the cause, but there are other routes. Work-based training via an apprenticeship or HND can also get you to where you want to be, although expect the climb to take longer. However, to become a chartered engineer (the aim of all ambitious aerospace and avionics engineers), you’ll need to acquire four years of ‘vocational training’ with an ‘official’ employer.
What exactly do aerospace and avionics engineers do?
Well, with both aerospace and avionics engineering, ascertaining the problem, researching possible solutions and then creating a product that is fit for purpose is the simplest way to describe it. If it’s aerospace in particular, confirming what the craft needs to do, what type of budget you’re playing with and how much time you will have to complete it is the first step.
Following this, the designing, building and testing begins. This tends to take a while. Take Boeing’s Dreamliner as an example of this. The plane was due for entry in the first quarter of 2008 and it was three years after that date before it was delivered. This wasn’t because of laziness! Testing, finding a problem, testing again, finding another problem and then testing some more means that so many of these projects experience significant delays.
This is much the same when it comes to the avionics industry. Everything is now so dependent on the software that controls everything that even the slightest glitch can have terrible consequences.
With great power comes great responsibility – can you handle the heat and take on a role in aerospace/avionics engineering? If so, check out the roles we have listed on our jobs board, or get some work experience to test the waters!