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Aerospace Engineers

At a Glance

  • Design components for aircraft, spacecraft, and weapons
  • Use CAD (computer-aided design) programs
  • Specialize in an area of design or type of aircraft
  • Often work for NASA or the Department of Defense
  • Have a bachelor's degree (many have a master's degree)
  • May need a license

Career summary

Aerospace engineers design, test, and construct parts for aircraft, spacecraft, and weapons.

#no alternate titles or additions from 2412 Aerospace Engineers

Aerospace engineers may specialize in the following areas:

They may also specialize in one type of aerospace craft such as:

Aerospace engineers use computer-aided design (CAD) systems to design, test, and modify aircraft and spacecraft. When a design is complete, engineers develop a model or prototype.

To test, aerospace engineers conduct operational, environmental, or stress tests. They compare the results with industry standards, environmental laws, and customer needs. They may change designs to improve speed or reduce pollution.

They estimate cost, environmental impact, and time needed to complete the project. Engineers may also manage production of the aircraft or spacecraft.

They write handbooks to explain the equipment and troubleshoot equipment problems. They also write reports and keep detailed records.

There are two types of aerospace engineers. Aeronautical engineers work on aircraft that stay inside the Earth's atmosphere. Astronautical engineers work on spacecraft that travel outside the Earth's atmosphere.

Some engineers create new products or systems to reduce the impact of aircraft on the environment. For example, they test biofuels for use in aircraft engines. They may also invent new materials to reduce weight and fuel use.

Related careers

This career is part of the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics cluster of careers.

Related careers include:

Military careers

Job duties

Task list

The following list of tasks is specific to aerospace engineers.

Common work activities

Aerospace engineers perform the following tasks. These tasks are common to many careers.

Work requirements

Working conditions

In a typical work setting, aerospace engineers:

Interpersonal relationships

Physical work conditions

Work performance


Physical demands

Aerospace engineers frequently:

It is important for aerospace engineers to be able to:

It is not as important, but still necessary, for aerospace engineers to be able to:

Skills and abilities

Aerospace engineers need to:


Reason and problem solve

Use math and science

Manage oneself, people, time, and things

Work with people

Work with things

Perceive and visualize

Education and training

Educational programs

The programs of study listed below will help you prepare for the occupation or career cluster you are exploring.

Programs of study directly related to this occupation

Other programs of study to consider


To work as an aerospace engineer, you typically need to:

Education after high school

Most students prepare for this field by earning a bachelor's degree in aerospace engineering. However, you can also prepare for this field by majoring in mechanical engineering. Many four-year colleges and universities offer these programs. Many students need between four and five years to complete their studies.

In a typical engineering program you take courses in math, basic science, introductory engineering, and social science. In the last two years, you specialize in aerospace engineering. Courses include aerospace structures and design, flight mechanics, propulsion, and aerodynamics.

Work experience

Internships are usually a part of a four-year degree program. They offer you a chance to apply what you learned in the classroom to a work situation. They also allow you to build skills and make contacts with people in the field. Internships improve your chances of finding a job.

On-the-job training

In general, aerospace engineers receive one to two years of on-the-job training. New graduates work under the guidance of experienced engineers. In large companies, you may also receive formal classroom training. As you gain knowledge and experience you have greater independence and receive more difficult tasks.

Military training

The military does not provide initial training in this field. However, the military may provide work experience to aerospace engineering graduates.

Helpful high school courses

In high school, take classes that prepare you for college. A college preparatory curriculum (external link) may be different from your state's graduation requirements (external link). Engineers use math and science frequently. Try to take math classes through Trigonometry and science classes through Physics.

You should also consider taking some advanced courses in high school. This includes Advanced Placement (AP) and International Baccalaureate (IB) courses if they are available in your school. If you do well in these courses, you may receive college credit for them. Advanced courses can also strengthen your college application.

Helpful electives to take in high school that prepare you for this career include:

The courses listed above are meant to help you create your high school plan. If you have not already done so, talk to a school counselor or parent about the courses you are considering taking.

You should also check with a teacher or counselor to see if work-based learning opportunities are available in your school and community. These might include field trips, job shadowing, internships, and actual work experience. The goal of these activities is to help you connect your school experiences with real-life work.

Join some groups, try some hobbies, or volunteer with an organization that interests you. By participating in activities you can have fun, make new friends, and learn about yourself. Maybe one of them will help direct you to a future career. Here are examples of activities and groups (PDF file) that may be available in your high school or community.

Things to know

For entry-level jobs, most employers prefer to hire applicants who have a bachelor's degree in aerospace engineering. When employers are having difficulty hiring, they may hire engineers who have been trained in other areas. For some positions, employers may hire college graduates with degrees in mechanical engineering, chemistry, materials science, or mathematics.

Employers may require a master's degree or higher for research, consulting, and managerial jobs.

Employers prefer to hire aerospace engineers who are creative and curious. They also look for people who are detail-oriented and analytical. Oral and written communication skills are also important. Employers look for people who can work on a team.

Some employers require a security clearance before hiring prospective employees.


Opportunities are best for those willing to relocate, not only in Washington, but also nationally. College "cooperative education" programs, where the student alternates industry employment with academic studies, may be helpful. Knowledge of aircraft structures and different methods of analysis is helpful.

Costs to workers

Some workers may wish to join a professional association, which may have annual dues.


Engineers employed in responsible positions in government or in firms offering services to the public, or who stamp their work as being done by an engineer, must be licensed by the Washington State Department of Licensing.

Getting a license as an engineer-in-training requires:

Professional engineer licensing requirements include:

Engineers who want to be licensed must pay an exam fee to the National Council of Examiners for Engineers and Surveyors and a $65 fee for the initial state exam application. After licensing, a renewal fee of $116 is due every two years. Not all engineers in Washington must be licensed.

For information on testing, contact:

National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (external link)
PO Box 1686
Clemson, SC 29633-1686

For licensing information, contact:

Washington State Department of Licensing
Board of Registration for Professional Engineers and
Land Surveyors Licensing Program (external link)

PO Box 9025
Olympia, WA 98507-9025

#OK & updated fees, 2/27/09 lh. Checked lic info 2/1/10 & 2/1/12 cj. Checked section; updated NCEES fee for PE exam to $350 & state renewal to $116, 1/31/14 cj.Licensing section ok, 1/27/16 cj. lh 1/18/17. Checked licensing info & found no changes; checked NCEES Examinee Guide & website for exam fees; Chemical & Nuclear PE exams only are now computer-based & cost $375; all other PE's exams are being transitioned from paper to computer-based and are still $350; couldn't find Engineer-in-Training $30 licensing fee so deleted it , 1/30/18 cj.


Job listings

Listed below are links to job categories from the National Labor Exchange that relate to this career. Once you get a list of jobs, you can view information about individual jobs and find out how to apply. If your job search finds too many openings, or if you wish to search for jobs outside of Washington, you will need to refine your search.

To get a listing of current jobs from the WorkSource system, go to the WorkSource website (external link).


Aerospace engineers (SOC 17-2011)

Pay Period
    Spokane-Spokane Valley Hourly $28.66 $34.64 $58.89 $73.67 $82.52
Monthly $4,967 $6,003 $10,206 $12,767 $14,301
Yearly $59,620 $72,057 $122,485 $153,236 $171,656
    Vancouver Hourly $35.00 $43.17 $55.64 $68.79 $77.52
Monthly $6,066 $7,481 $9,642 $11,921 $13,434
Yearly $72,797 $89,798 $115,738 $143,070 $161,242
United States Hourly $34.44 $43.19 $55.39 $68.91 $78.95
Monthly $5,968 $7,485 $9,599 $11,942 $13,682
Yearly $71,640 $89,830 $115,220 $143,340 $164,210

Wages vary by employer. For example, engineers who work for aircraft manufacturers generally earn more than those who work for the federal government or for guided missile manufacturers. Engineers with more experience earn more than those who are just starting out. Those with a PhD earn more than those with a master's or bachelor's degree.

Most engineers who work full time also earn benefits. Typical benefits include health insurance, paid vacation, sick leave, and a retirement plan.

Employment and outlook

Washington outlook

Washington outlook for aerospace engineers depends on economic conditions, technological developments, the demand for new aircraft, and the supply of new engineers entering the labor force. The outlook for aerospace engineers also depends heavily on defense and space research spending and the number of engineering jobs retained in this state by aerospace companies.

Most job openings that occur will be due to workers who retire or switch occupations.

#Boeing Moving 1,000 More Jobs to California, by Dominic Gates, Seattle Times, April 10, 2014.

The table below provides information about the number of workers in this career in various regions. It also provides information about the expected growth rate and future job openings.

Aerospace Engineers (SOC 17-2011)

Location Current employment Growth over 10 years Annual openings
Washington 6,814 1.4% 16.1% 419
    Clark, Cowlitz, and Wahkiakum Counties 28 10.7% 15.2% 2
    Island, San Juan, Skagit, and Whatcom Counties 25 -8.0% 14.6% 1
    King County 2,488 5.8% 19.6% 178
    Pierce County 96 9.4% 15.2% 7
    Snohomish County 3,962 -2.2% 12.4% 210
    Spokane County 18 0.0% 13.9% 1
United States 67,200 1.6% 5.2% 4,500

National employment

About half of all aerospace engineers work in manufacturing. States with large aerospace manufacturers employ the most aerospace engineers. Some of those states are California, Washington, Texas, and Florida.

Major employers:

National outlook

Employment of aerospace engineers is expected to grow. Improvements in technology will increase the need for research and projects related to increasing fuel efficiency and increasing safety in flight aircraft.

However, there are a limited number of positions available so competition will be strong. Those with software experience and a background in stress or structural engineering will have the best prospects.

Other resources

Aerospace Industries Association (external link)
1000 Wilson Boulevard, Suite 1700
Arlington, VA 22209
American Association for the Advancement of Science (external link)
1200 New York Ave, NW
American Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET) (external link)
(This website provides a list of engineering-related programs accredited by ABET)
415 North Charles Street
Baltimore, MD 21201
American Institute of Aeronautics & Astronautics (external link)
12700 Sunrise Valley Drive, Suite 200
Reston, VA 20191
Careers in Space: A Universe of Options (external link)
Discover Engineering (external link)
eGFI - Dream Up the Future (external link)
Engineer Girl! (external link)
National Academy of Engineering
Engineering & Science Career Videos (external link)
Engineering Your Future (external link)
Federal Aviation Administration (external link)
800 Independence Avenue SW
Washington, DC 20591
IEEE Computer Society (external link)
2001 L Street NW, Suite 700
Washington, DC 20036
National Academy of Engineering (external link)
500 Fifth Street NW
Washington, DC 20001
National Action Council for Minorities in Engineering (external link)
National Aeronautics and Space Administration (external link)
Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace (SPEEA) (external link)
Society of Women Engineers (external link)
130 East Randolph Street, Suite 3500
Chicago, IL 60601
Technology Student Association (external link)
1904 Association Drive
Reston, VA 20191-1540
Washington State Science & Engineering Fair (external link)
Your're a What? Rocket Scientist (external link)
Bureau of Labor Statistics Career Ourlook


Career cluster

Career path

O*Net (external link) occupation

O*Net job zone (external link)

DOT occupations

Strong Interest Inventory

Holland occupational cluster