What Aerospace Engineers Do and Career Opportunities?


Definition of Aerospace Engineering
Aerospace engineers design aircraft, spacecraft, satellites, and missiles. In addition, they test prototypes to make sure that they function according to design. Aerospace engineers are employed primarily in analysis and design, manufacturing, industries that perform research and development, and the federal government.” (ref 1)

No other discipline allows you to do these sorts of things. Indeed, this is the reason why separate programs, degrees and jobs exist. Furthermore, AE unique and special skills position you well to do other amazing things (see the Spin-Off section of this document).

Employment and Wages
The following table compares engineering job and wage differences for five different engineering areas. (refs 1 & 2)

BLS Data - May 2016 AE ME BME IE EE
  Aerospace Mechanical Biomedical Industrial Electrical
USA employment 68,510 285,790 22,100 241,100 315,900
Kansas employment 2,370 2,520 ** 2,210 2,070
Wichita area employment 2,040 520 ** 820 350
Job outlook growth (2014-2024) -2% 5% 23% 1% 0%
Kansas location quotient* 3.53 0.90 ** 0.88 1.15
Wichita location quotient* 14.10 0.85 ** 1.50 0.90
US mean annual wage (2016) $112,010 $89,800 $89,970 $88,530 $98,620
Kansas mean annual wage (2016) $101,210 $77,980 ** $83,810 $92,010
Wichita mean annual wage (2016) $100,060 $76,360 ** $86,120 $85,000

* “The location quotient is the ratio of the area concentration of occupational employment to the national average concentration. A location quotient greater than one indicates the occupation has a higher share of employment than average, and a location quotient less than one indicates the occupation is less prevalent in the area than average.” (ref 1) 

** The BLS website doesn’t yet have a complete set of data for BME.

As you can see, there are more AE opportunities in Kansas and, especially, in Wichita. The pay is good as well. Keep in mind that companies that want AE’s hire AE’s. There are in some cases more jobs in other engineering disciplines nationwide, but there are also more of those engineers nationwide. Competition will always be keen. Pursuing another degree to do AE work isn’t sensible. Consider your interests, passions, and what you really want to do in your career.

The Wichita Eagle newspaper provided an update In September 2017. Specifically, they reviewed a 2017 report produced by the Workforce Alliance of South Central Kansas (click here for a link to the story). The report outlines the top-ten high-pay jobs. Aerospace engineers topped the list, with highest demand and salaries. Most imprtantly, the alliance indicates demand will likely extend to the year 2026.

Wichita is the “Air Capital”
Kansas companies have made over 250,000 aircraft, mostly in Wichita. (ref 3) This amazing result is part of the reason Wichita is often called “The Air Capital.”

Aeronautical and now Aerospace Engineers (AE) are an integral part of Kansas’ culture - past, present, and future. The state is sixth and Wichita is fifth among cities in the nation employing aerospace engineers. California, Washington, Texas, Ohio, Alabama, Maryland, and Colorado also heavily employ aerospace engineers. (ref 1)

Classic AE and Spin-off Jobs
AE’s specialize in the design and testing of high-performance vehicles. Their unique know-how in aerodynamics, structures, propulsion, and flight mechanics are most often applied to improve or develop aircraft and spacecraft.

Employment opportunities - involving analysis, design, testing, simulation, and research - exist in the commercial, defense, government, and private sectors.

Interestingly, spin-off employment prospects exist in industries that similarly demand lightweight and optimized high-performance products. As a result, aerospace engineers also work in the automotive (including racing), energy (including wind), and medical fields.

AE graduates are successful and have worked in a wide variety of places, including for example: Boeing (Space, Commercial & Military); Cessna and Beechcraft (now Textron Aviation); Spirit AeroSystems; Bombardier Aerospace; Airbus; Lockheed Advanced Product Development (a.k.a., The Skunk Works); General Atomics; Northrup Grumman; Sikorsky Aircraft; the US Military (USAF, USN, Army, & Marines); Scaled Composites; NASA; SpaceX; Blue Origin; The Spaceship Company; United Launch Alliance; Hendrick Motorsports (NASCAR); General Motors; Chrysler; GE Wind; and Boosted Boards.

WSU AE alumni have gone on to become excellent aerospace engineers, vice presidents, test pilots, flight test engineers, entrepreneurs, professors, and even medical doctors.

Everyone Will Have Career Challenges & Successes
The “2008 Great Recession” hit the world, nation, and Wichita hard. Every type of industry, business, and worker was affected in some way. The hard times were not just felt in the aerospace sector. Engineers of all types, accountants, and machinists, to name just a few, were affected - it was a worldwide economic recession.

The good news is that times are better and the future is very promising. Projections for aircraft sales and commercial space growth are amazing. Additionally, keep in mind that a large number of aging “Baby Boomer” engineers will retire soon. Industry and government need lots of new engineers.

Motivated, hard working, and skilled people are in the best position to seize opportunities, to endure challenges, and excel. So make sure you study and work hard to become the best engineer possible.

WSU Aerospace Engineering (AE) is the place for you if you are truly enamored with the science of atmospheric flight, space flight, and high-performance machines. Make sure you follow your passion!

1) US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) Aerospace Engineering website, accessed July 2017, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes172011.htm

2) US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) Architecture and Engineering Occupations website, accessed November 2015, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/architecture-and-engineering/home.htm

3) “Wings Over Kansas,” accessed September 2015, http://www.wingsoverkansas.com/legacy/a93/