Aerospace engineering

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Aerospace engineer
Apollo 13 Mailbox at Mission Control.jpg
NASA engineers, seen here in mission control during Apollo 13, worked to protect the lives of the astronauts on the mission.
NamesAerospace engineer
Occupation type
Activity sectors
Aeronautics, astronautics, science
CompetenciesTechnical knowledge, management skills
(see also glossary of aerospace engineering)
Education required
Bachelor's degree [1] [2]
Fields of
Technology, science, space exploration, military

Aerospace engineering is the primary field of engineering concerned with the development of aircraft and spacecraft. [3] It has two major and overlapping branches: aeronautical engineering and astronautical engineering. Avionics engineering is similar, but deals with the electronics side of aerospace engineering.


"Aeronautical engineering" was the original term for the field. As flight technology advanced to include vehicles operating in outer space, the broader term "aerospace engineering" has come into use. [4] Aerospace engineering, particularly the astronautics branch, is often colloquially referred to as "rocket science". [5] [lower-alpha 1]


Flight vehicles are subjected to demanding conditions such as those caused by changes in atmospheric pressure and temperature, with structural loads applied upon vehicle components. Consequently, they are usually the products of various technological and engineering disciplines including aerodynamics, propulsion, avionics, materials science, structural analysis and manufacturing. The interaction between these technologies is known as aerospace engineering. Because of the complexity and number of disciplines involved, aerospace engineering is carried out by teams of engineers, each having their own specialized area of expertise. [7]


Orville and Wilbur Wright flew the Wright Flyer in 1903 at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. First flight2.jpg
Orville and Wilbur Wright flew the Wright Flyer in 1903 at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina.

The origin of aerospace engineering can be traced back to the aviation pioneers around the late 19th to early 20th centuries, although the work of Sir George Cayley dates from the last decade of the 18th to mid-19th century. One of the most important people in the history of aeronautics [8] and a pioneer in aeronautical engineering, [9] Cayley is credited as the first person to separate the forces of lift and drag, which affect any atmospheric flight vehicle. [10]

Early knowledge of aeronautical engineering was largely empirical, with some concepts and skills imported from other branches of engineering. [11] Some key elements, like fluid dynamics, were understood by 18th-century scientists.

In December 1903, the Wright Brothers performed the first sustained, controlled flight of a powered, heavier-than-air aircraft, lasting 12 seconds. The 1910s saw the development of aeronautical engineering through the design of World War I military aircraft.

Between World Wars I and II, great leaps were made in the field, accelerated by the advent of mainstream civil aviation. Notable airplanes of this era include the Curtiss JN 4, the Farman F.60 Goliath, and Fokker Trimotor. Notable military airplanes of this period include the Mitsubishi A6M Zero, the Supermarine Spitfire and the Messerschmitt Bf 109 from Japan, United Kingdom, and Germany respectively. A significant development in aerospace engineering came with the first operational Jet engine-powered airplane, the Messerschmitt Me 262 which entered service in 1944 towards the end of the second World War.

The first definition of aerospace engineering appeared in February 1958, [4] considering the Earth's atmosphere and outer space as a single realm, thereby encompassing both aircraft (aero) and spacecraft (space) under the newly coined term aerospace.

In response to the USSR launching the first satellite, Sputnik, into space on October 4, 1957, U.S. aerospace engineers launched the first American satellite on January 31, 1958. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration was founded in 1958 as a response to the Cold War. In 1969, Apollo 11, the first manned space mission to the moon took place. It saw three astronauts enter orbit around the Moon, with two, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, visiting the lunar surface. The third astronaut, Michael Collins, stayed in orbit to rendezvous with Armstrong and Aldrin after their visit. [12]

An important innovation came on January 30, 1970, when the Boeing 747 made its first commercial flight from New York to London. This aircraft made history and became known as the "Jumbo Jet" or "Whale" [13] due to its ability to hold up to 480 passengers. [14]

Another significant development in aerospace engineering came in 1976, with the development of the first passenger supersonic aircraft, the Concorde. The development of this aircraft was agreed upon by the French and British on November 29, 1962. [15]

On December 21, 1988, the Antonov An-225 Mriya cargo aircraft commenced its first flight. It holds the records for the world's heaviest aircraft, heaviest airlifted cargo, and longest airlifted cargo, and has the widest wingspan of any aircraft in operational service.[ citation needed ]

On October 25, 2007, the Airbus A380 made its maiden commercial flight from Singapore to Sydney, Australia. This aircraft was the first passenger plane to surpass the Boeing 747 in terms of passenger capacity, with a maximum of 853. Though development of this aircraft began in 1988 as a competitor to the 747, the A380 made its first test flight in April 2005. [16]


Wernher von Braun, with the F-1 engines of the Saturn V first stage at the US Space and Rocket Center S-IC engines and Von Braun.jpg
Wernher von Braun, with the F-1 engines of the Saturn V first stage at the US Space and Rocket Center
Soyuz TMA-14M spacecraft engineered for descent by parachute Expedition 42 Soyuz TMA-14M Landing (201503120102HQ).jpg
Soyuz TMA-14M spacecraft engineered for descent by parachute
A fighter jet engine undergoing testing. The tunnel behind the engine allows noise and exhaust to escape. Engine.f15.arp.750pix.jpg
A fighter jet engine undergoing testing. The tunnel behind the engine allows noise and exhaust to escape.

Some of the elements of aerospace engineering are: [17] [18]

The basis of most of these elements lies in theoretical physics, such as fluid dynamics for aerodynamics or the equations of motion for flight dynamics. There is also a large empirical component. Historically, this empirical component was derived from testing of scale models and prototypes, either in wind tunnels or in the free atmosphere. More recently, advances in computing have enabled the use of computational fluid dynamics to simulate the behavior of the fluid, reducing time and expense spent on wind-tunnel testing. Those studying hydrodynamics or hydroacoustics often obtain degrees in aerospace engineering.

Additionally, aerospace engineering addresses the integration of all components that constitute an aerospace vehicle (subsystems including power, aerospace bearings, communications, thermal control, life support, etc.) and its life cycle (design, temperature, pressure, radiation, velocity, lifetime).

Degree programs

Aerospace engineering may be studied at the advanced diploma, bachelor's, master's, and Ph.D. levels in aerospace engineering departments at many universities, and in mechanical engineering departments at others. A few departments offer degrees in space-focused astronautical engineering. Some institutions differentiate between aeronautical and astronautical engineering. Graduate degrees are offered in advanced or specialty areas for the aerospace industry.

A background in chemistry, physics, computer science and mathematics is important for students pursuing an aerospace engineering degree. [20]

The term "rocket scientist" is sometimes used to describe a person of great intelligence since rocket science is seen as a practice requiring great mental ability, especially technically and mathematically. The term is used ironically in the expression "It's not rocket science" to indicate that a task is simple. [21] Strictly speaking, the use of "science" in "rocket science" is a misnomer since science is about understanding the origins, nature, and behavior of the universe; engineering is about using scientific and engineering principles to solve problems and develop new technology. [5] [6] The more etymologically correct version of this phrase would be "rocket engineer". However, "science" and "engineering" are often misused as synonyms. [5] [6] [22]

See also


  1. However, "rocket science" is a misnomer as aerospace engineers are not scientists. [5] [6]

Related Research Articles

Aeronautics Science involved with the study, design, and manufacturing of airflight-capable machines

Aeronautics is the science or art involved with the study, design, and manufacturing of air flight–capable machines, and the techniques of operating aircraft and rockets within the atmosphere. The British Royal Aeronautical Society identifies the aspects of "aeronautical Art, Science and Engineering" and "The profession of Aeronautics ."

Aerodynamics Branch of dynamics concerned with studying the motion of air

Aerodynamics, from Greek ἀήρ aero (air) + δυναμική (dynamics), is the study of motion of air, particularly when affected by a solid object, such as an airplane wing. It is a sub-field of fluid dynamics and gas dynamics, and many aspects of aerodynamics theory are common to these fields. The term aerodynamics is often used synonymously with gas dynamics, the difference being that "gas dynamics" applies to the study of the motion of all gases, and is not limited to air. The formal study of aerodynamics began in the modern sense in the eighteenth century, although observations of fundamental concepts such as aerodynamic drag were recorded much earlier. Most of the early efforts in aerodynamics were directed toward achieving heavier-than-air flight, which was first demonstrated by Otto Lilienthal in 1891. Since then, the use of aerodynamics through mathematical analysis, empirical approximations, wind tunnel experimentation, and computer simulations has formed a rational basis for the development of heavier-than-air flight and a number of other technologies. Recent work in aerodynamics has focused on issues related to compressible flow, turbulence, and boundary layers and has become increasingly computational in nature.

Aerospace The union of atmosphere and outer space activities that have commercial, industrial, and military applications

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Flight Process by which an object moves, through an atmosphere or beyond it

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Theodore von Kármán Hungarian-American mathematician, aerospace engineer and physicist

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Astronautics Theory and practice of navigation beyond the Earths atmosphere

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Tumkur Seetharamaiah Prahlad is an Indian aerospace scientist and the former director of the National Aerospace Laboratories (NAL), Bengaluru, known as a specialist in Aerodynamics and Aerospace Design. His contributions are reported in Indian civil aircraft development programmes of Hansa and NAL Saras and light combat aircraft development programme. The Government of India awarded him the civilian honour of the Padma Shri in 2004, The same year, he received the H. K. Firodia Award from H. K. Firodia Memorial Foundation.

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The Ann and H.J. Smead Department of Aerospace Engineering Sciences is a department within the College of Engineering & Applied Science at the University of Colorado Boulder, providing aerospace education and research. Housed primarily in the Aerospace Engineering Sciences building on the university's East Campus in Boulder, it awards baccalaureate, masters, and PhD degrees, as well as certificates, graduating approximately 225 students annually.

Ivy Hooks Mathematician and engineer

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Andrew J. Stofan Engineer

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Further reading