Aeronautical engineers (a.k.a. aerospace engineers) work primarily in the aviation, aerospace and defence industries.
Without these guys jumbo jets would be far too heavy to take off, autopilot systems would be worse than your car’s dodgy sat nav and Maverick would never have been able to invert his aircraft and take a photo of that MiG-28 from two metres away in Top Gun.
Aeronautical engineers use their technical nous, practical skills and expert scientific knowledge to design, develop, research, test, tweak, adjust, upgrade and maintain sophisticated and complex engineering solutions, devices and machines, such as passenger jets, fighter planes, helicopters, space shuttles, missiles, Chinooks, weapons systems, satellites, stealth jets and other similar aeronautical vehicles.
Aeronautical engineers often take on specialist roles, focusing on a specific sub-category of the aeronautical engineering remit, such as electrical and electronic engineering, structural engineering, software engineering for automation and guidance purposes, aerodynamics or propulsion systems. Others focus their efforts on concepts such as fluid dynamics or nanotechnology.
The majority of opportunities are available with manufacturers of aircraft and spacecraft, defence and military establishments, commercial airline operators, statutory and regulatory authorities, government departments and their executive agencies that focus on scientific research and engineering projects.
Alternatively, you could find work with an advanced research and development centre or a higher education institution in a purely research-focused role.
Salary & benefits
Trainee aeronautical engineers earn annual salaries between £20,000 and £30,000; professionals with more experience can earn between £25,000 and £40,000; whilst more senior members of staff may receive between £40,000 and £70,000 a year.
Employees in the commercial sector and professionals with advanced qualifications, such as an MEng, MSc or PhD, tend to receive the highest salaries.
Given the complex, technical nature of the job, you may be required to work longer hours. The average working day lasts between ten and 12 hours. You might also need to do extra work during critical periods, especially on deadline-driven projects.
To break into this line of work, a degree in aeronautical or aerospace engineering would be a great bonus.
However, you could also enter this profession with another relevant degree in a subject such as physics, maths, mechanical engineering, or electrical and electronic engineering.
It’s also a great idea to get some work experience under your belt before applying for entry-level jobs.
Before you can acquire chartered status, you will also need to obtain a relevant postgraduate degree. However, your employer may sponsor you through this process.
Training & progression
Most employers offer structured graduate development schemes, which are usually conducted over a period of two to three years. These involve formal training sessions, rotational placements across multiple departments and the provision of academic and financial support for gaining chartered or incorporated engineer qualifications.
Career progression is dependent on your individual performance, professional background, experience and your willingness to move across and outside the UK.
As you progress though, you may have less direct involvement with hands-on technical work. Instead, you’ll be more responsible for providing strategic direction on projects, team management, budget control and training junior members of staff.