Aeronautical engineers and aircraft designers use cutting edge materials, processes and systems along with their ingenuity to improve or create new aerial vehicles.
Peter Sturdza, deputy chief engineer at Aerion Corp, engaged in developing a supersonic AS2 business jet, Rob Wolz, director of project engineering for Advanced Aircraft Programs at Gulfstream Aerospace; and Mike Blyth, co-founder of South Africa’s Airplane Factory and designer of sport aircraft including the Sling 2 and Sling 4 – provide some expert guidance on how you can pursue a career in this field.
What training is needed to become an aeronautical engineer / aircraft designer?
To start with, most of the positions ask for a minimum of bachelor’s degree within a wide range of science or engineering fields along with astronautics or aeronautics, such as structural, electrical, mechanical, materials and in some cases even civil engineering.
Some jobs may alsoask for training in human factors, system safety, aesthetic design or air-vehicle integration. Blyth points out that he has no bachelor’s degree in the field. He did course in architecture and mechanical engineering before he got into aviation at the age of 30.
What other skills are required apart from engineering excellence?
Sturdza says, companies like to hire people who are self starter and don’t require a lot of handholding. Considering the fact that engineers and designers have to work in team, good communication and collaboration skills are also important.
Leadership and organizational skills are also required as most of the aircraft designers have to lead a group. Wolz did his MBA after spending two decades in this career, it is only then he was able to understand the relation between corporate objectives and development projects.
Does an aeronautical engineer or aircraft designer have to be a pilot?
It is not necessary to be a pilot to become an aircraft engineer or designer, and most of them are not. This means there is no direct benefit, however, if you have a pilot license you may work with renewed enthusiasm in this field.
According to Wolz, you will have a connection with the people for whom you are designing an aircraft. Design professionals usually have to deal with avionics manufacturers, the FAA and with the pilots, so it will be a plus point.
How a graduate can get the first job in the industry?
If you want to develop a career in this industry, advises Wolz, you should start developing contracts while you are pursuing your engineering. Try to get practical work experience through cooperative education programs or internships.
Sturdza discloses that he started working at Aerion while he was completing his Ph. D. on laminar flow technology. Having a relationship with a potential employer is as important as sending out your resume.
Blyth throws some light on the type of company you would like to work for. In a large company, a specialized person is assigned for ever procedure, whereas in a small company a single person looks after every aspect ranging from development and design.
What career considerations should be remembered?
According to Wolz, there is a huge difference in the aeronautical workforce of the past and the present. The latter being always on the fast track. Things take time here and lot of work is required to be recognized and to grow. You will have to work your way to find opportunities and earn respect.
According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the annual mean base pay for aeronautical engineer was around $108,000. However, it varies widely as per skills, company and region. However, there are very few other jobs that can match the fringe benefits this career provides.
Blyth gladly says, they design something, create it, test it, fly it and the most wonderful part comes when, they deliver their make and change lives.
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