What Does an Aerospace Design Engineer Do?

The Lockheed SR-71, which was designed by aerospace design engineers.
Aerospace engineers designed the Space Shuttle using knowledge gained from the X-15, X-20, and X-24 projects.
The development of rockets such as the Soyuz-FG orbital launch system falls under aerospace engineering.
Renaissance artist Leonardo Da Vinci, who designed various flying machines, is considered a predecessor to modern aerospace engineers.
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  • Written By: D. Jeffress
  • Edited By: Jenn Walker
  • Images By: Sdasm Archives, Mike Brown, Unclepodger, Janaka Dharmasena
  • Last Modified Date: 27 September 2014
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An aerospace design engineer researches and develops new technologies for use in aviation and space travel. Professionals in the field rely on their expertise in math, physics, chemistry, and mechanical engineering to come up with innovative new designs. They conceptualize entire crafts, instrumentation panels, engines, fuel cells, and on-board systems that are safe and efficient. Most aerospace design engineers are employed by national government and military agencies, though some work for private companies and consulting firms.

When planning a new project, an aerospace design engineer first considers the problems with current vehicles. An engineer might, for example, want to improve the steering system on a fighter jet. He or she would study the relevant physics and try to identify the shortcomings of the existing system, such as difficulties controlling hard turns and dives. The engineer could then design blueprints and schematics of a better steering mechanism. He or she uses advanced computer simulation software to test the new design and see if adjustments need to be made.

Once all of the details of a project are worked out, the aerospace design engineer can pass on findings to a team of build experts. The team works with the design engineer to bring the idea to life as a prototype. After extensive testing, a successful idea can be patented and used in actual crafts.

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Aerospace design engineers often work with assistants and scientists from other specialties during projects. For example, an engineer might consult with chemists when drafting plans for a novel jet propulsion engine. Other experts can provide helpful tips on how to achieve maximum fuel efficiency and power. In the same respect, scientists can ask an aerospace design engineer to help them figure out the best types of materials and equipment to use to make engines, exhaust systems, and pressure chambers as safe as possible.

Since modern technologies are constantly evolving, an aerospace design engineer needs to stay up-to-date on the latest advances in the industry. Many professionals read scholarly journals, participate in conferences, and discuss points with their colleagues on a regular basis. Some engineers decide to become writers and editors for popular publications to inspire the public to become more interested in rocket science.

The minimum requirement to become an aerospace design engineer in most agencies and companies is a master's degree in the specialty. Many engineers, however, decide to pursue doctoral degrees in physics or math to improve their credentials and their chances of finding permanent positions. College graduates usually begin their careers as assistants or apprentices to gain experience. In one to five years, successful workers earn more responsibilities and the opportunity to work independently on original projects.

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