How to Become an Aeronautical Engineer in the US

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Aeronautical engineers are involved in the design, development and manufacturer of aircraft, aircraft components and systems. They are tasked with creating safer and energy-efficient airliners, private jets and helicopters. If you are an aviation enthusiast with strong, inventive thinking skills, you should consider pursuing a career as an aeronautical engineer.

What do aeronautical engineers do?

Their duties include:

  • Assessing client requirements and determining whether their preferred designs are feasible
  • Creating designs for the body of an aircraft, as well as components and systems
  • Selecting materials to be used in making various parts of the airplane – For each potential material, they must test the strength and durability
  • Supervising the construction of airplanes to ensure adherence to design specifications
  • Studying the performance of existing airplanes to identify areas and components that can be redesigned to, for instance, reduce drag or improve fuel efficiency
  • Developing the quality and safety standards and testing procedures for new aircraft and aircraft parts
  • Building flight simulators
  • Inspecting faulty airplanes to identify and fix faults
  • Supervising aeronautical engineering technicians

Work environment

Aeronautical engineers typically work from 9am to 5pm, Monday through Friday. However, if a project has tight timelines, they can extend their working hours.

While at work, they spend their time in aircraft workshops, hangars or design laboratories. To prevent work-related injuries while in workshops and hangars, the engineers wear personal protective clothing or accessories.


According to Payscale, aeronautical engineers in the US earn an average annual salary of $80,820.

Entry requirements

To become an aeronautical engineer, you need to earn a bachelor’s degree in aeronautical or aerospace engineering. The program will equip you with the engineering knowledge you need to design, manufacture and maintain aircraft. Topics covered include:

  • Rigid body dynamics
  • Design of aircraft structures
  • Aerodynamics
  • Design of propulsion systems
  • Engineering mathematics
  • Materials science
  • Fluid mechanics
  • Thermodynamics
  • Electrical science

Examples of top universities offering undergraduate engineering programs accredited by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology include:

  • Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta
  • Arizona State University, Phoenix

It is essential to note that Clarkson University offers a degree that solely focuses on aircraft while the other two provide training in both the design and manufacture of aircraft and spacecraft. So Clarkson University should be your top priority.

Important qualities

The skills and interests you need to be a competent aeronautical engineer include:

  • Excellent analytical skills
  • Visual awareness
  • The ability to think methodically
  • Strong analytical skills
  • Strong design skills
  • Strong computer design skills
  • Strong critical thinking skills
  • Strong technical skills
  • Strong math skills
  • Strong problem-solving and design skills
  • Good communication skills
  • Good teamwork skills
  • An interest in science
  • Good planning skills
  • Excellent knowledge of federal aviation regulations

Career development

With a bachelor’s degree, you will start out as a junior aeronautical engineer, working alongside experienced engineers. As you develop your occupational skills and gain work experience, consider obtaining the Professional Engineer (PE) license from your state’s engineering board. This will prove to your employers that you possess the skills and training required to take up independent projects.

For more information on obtaining the PE license, visit the National Society of Professional Engineers.

You should also secure membership in the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics and make use of its professional development resources, including industry books and journals, and aviation forums.

To heighten you advancement prospects, pursue a master’s degree in aeronautics or aerospace engineering.

Job opportunities

The employers of aeronautical engineers include:

  • Airlines
  • Engineering firms
  • Manufacturers of aircraft and aircraft parts
  • Federal agencies like the Federal Aviation Administration

With vast experience and a PE license, you will advance to become a senior aeronautical engineer, and later on, head of design, research and development, or manufacturing. With a master’s degree, you can become an aeronautical engineering instructor.

Between 2012 and 2022, the Bureau of Labor Statistics says there will be about 6,100 new jobs in aeronautical and aerospace engineering. Many of these jobs will be in research and development, as manufacturers are looking to create planes that are more fuel-efficient.

So if you have a passion for aircraft, this could be the career for you.