What Is Aerospace Engineering?

Airplanes, jet planes, spacecrafts, satellites and all things that fly—these are the tangible results of the field known as aerospace engineering. A relatively new specialization in engineering when viewed in the light of other engineering disciplines, aerospace engineering came forth only in the 19th century. The Wright brothers were able to fly their plane in 1903 using its own power following the concepts of lift, drag, weight and an engine’s thrust, among others. Before this, however, there were already experiments that paved way for the eventual development of airplanes that could take off and land on their own. These early experiments were done by Sir George Cayley and Jean-Marie Le Bris and involved gliders.

The word “aerospace” was born in 1958 when aerospace engineering was first defined. In this definition, aircraft and spacecraft were placed within the same field because the Earth’s atmosphere and that of outer space were seen as one. This also explains why aerospace engineers can choose to focus on aeronautical engineering which delves on aircraft and propulsion systems that fly in the earth’s atmosphere or on astronautical engineering which focuses on spacecraft and their performance within the earth’s atmosphere and in space.

Today, aerospace engineering focuses on the design, manufacturing and testing of aircraft, spacecraft and other aerospace products. These include airplanes, rockets, helicopters, satellites, launch vehicles and missiles. Knowledge of the principles governing the field enables aerospace engineers to make these vehicles and related products for the commercial airline industry, the military and defense and space exploration. As such, professionals working in this field need to have a thorough understanding of fluid mechanics, astrodynamics, propulsion, statics and dynamics, aircraft structures, control engineering, electrotechnology, avionics, aeroelasticity, materials science, mathematics and software for aerospace applications. They also need to be able to design and execute flight testing programs to ensure that it meets safety standards and legal requirements.

Computer aided design (CAD) and computer simulation now plays a very important role in the field of aerospace engineering. With the use of CAD, designs for aircraft and spacecraft are easily made, crafted and modified. With simulation programs now made available, it becomes easier to virtually test an aircraft and its different parts to determine how it will perform in various conditions. The aerospace engineering industry as a whole has benefited from the advantages that computer simulation offers. Because tests are simulated, problems that could potentially endanger the lives of pilots and cause the mission to fail are identified and addressed even before the aircraft and spacecraft has taken off the ground. This has also resulted to financial savings for aerospace engineering firms.

Aerospace engineering is obviously a mentally challenging profession. It is for those who don’t only have an intimate understanding of the elements that govern the design, manufacturing and testing of aircraft and spacecraft but it is for professionals who have keen analytical and problem solving skills. It is for the critical thinker who knows how to express himself or herself clearly whether verbally or in writing. Demanding though this career may see, it provides a lucrative six-figure annual income for those who can hack its challenges.

Career Spotlight: Aerospace Engineer

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