What is aerospace engineering?

What is Aerospace Engineering?

Aerospace engineering is the primary field of engineering concerned with the design, development, testing, and production of aircraft, spacecraft, and related systems and equipment. The field has traditionally focused on problems related to atmospheric and space flight, with two major and overlapping branches: aeronautical engineering and astronautical engineering.

Aeronautical Engineering focuses on the theory, technology, and practice of flight within the earth’s atmosphere.

Astronautical Engineering focuses on the science and technology of spacecraft and launch vehicles.

What does an aerospace engineer do?

Aerospace engineers develop leading-edge technologies and integrate them into aerospace vehicle systems used for transportation, communications, exploration, and defense applications. This involves the design and manufacturing of aircraft, spacecraft, propulsion systems, satellites, and missiles, as well as the design and testing of aircraft and aerospace products, components, and subassemblies.

Successful aerospace engineers possess in-depth skills in, and an understanding of, aerodynamics, materials and structures, propulsion, vehicle dynamics and control, and software.

Where do aerospace engineers work?

Aerospace engineers work primarily in the aerospace industry, at systems and software suppliers, corporate labs, government labs, and universities. The skill set of aerospace engineers is extremely broad and multidisciplinary, and the experience of aerospace engineers as systems architects and engineers allows them to make contributions in many diverse sectors.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the industries that employed the most aerospace engineers in 2014 were:

  • Aerospace product and parts manufacturing: 38%
  • Engineering services: 14%
  • Federal government, excluding postal service: 13%
  • Research and development in the physical, engineering, and life sciences: 12%
  • Navigational, measuring, electromedical, and control instruments manufacturing: 5%

In 2016, and for the fourth time in six years, Penn State topped the list of preferred suppliers of engineering talent to the aerospace and defense industry, according to the Aviation Week 2016 Workforce Study.

What kind of salary does an aerospace engineer earn?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage for aerospace engineers was $105,380 in May 2014. The median annual wages for aerospace engineers in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

  • Federal government, excluding postal service = $113,550
  • Navigational, measuring, electromedical, and control instruments manufacturing = $111,660
  • Research and development in the physical, engineering, and life sciences = $107,490
  • Engineering services = $103,450
  • Aerospace product and parts manufacturing = $102,430

The average annual starting salary for Penn State Aerospace Engineering 2015-2016 undergraduates was $63,286.*

*The average annual starting salary information was provided on a voluntary basis by undergraduate engineering students who completed their Senior Exit Survey.



The Penn State Department of Aerospace Engineering, established in 1961 and the only aerospace engineering department in Pennsylvania, is consistently recognized as one of the top aerospace engineering departments in the nation, and is also an international leader in aerospace education, research, and engagement. Our undergraduate program is ranked 15th and our graduate programs are ranked 15th nationally by U.S. News & World Report, while one in 25 holders of a B.S. degree in aerospace engineering in the U.S. earned it from Penn State. Our students are consistently among the most highly recruited by industry, government, and graduate schools nationwide.

The department is built upon the fundamentals of academic integrity, innovation in research, and commitment to the advancement of industry. Through an innovative curriculum and world-class instruction that reflects current industry practice and embraces future trends, Penn State Aerospace Engineering graduates emerge as broadly educated, technically sound aerospace engineers who will become future leaders in a critical industry

Department of Aerospace Engineering

229 Hammond Building

The Pennsylvania State University

University Park, PA 16802

Phone: 814-865-2569