Field of Study: Aerospace, Aeronautical, and Astronautical Engineering
Aerospace, aeronautical, and astronautical engineering programs prepare people to design aircraft and spacecraft. Students learn to use math and science to study flight characteristics and design flight systems. They also learn to design systems that launch, guide, and control aircraft.
It isn't easy to make a huge hunk of metal take off from the ground. It takes powerful engines, a carefully designed fuselage, and sophisticated controls. And the aerospace industry is always looking for improved designs. How can the aircraft fly faster? On less fuel? More safely? More stealthily (if it is a bomber)? More comfortably (if it is a passenger plane)? Farther from Earth (if it is a spacecraft)?
In an aerospace engineering program, you learn how to solve a multitude of problems. You study science and technology, and you learn how to apply them in creative ways. For example, it is very expensive to build an airplane to test a new design theory. Therefore you learn how to use computers to create simulations or wind tunnels to test airflow on the ground.
You study the specialized materials that are used in aircraft. You learn how to make trade-offs among the characteristics of strength, weight, cost, and ease of machining. You study electronic circuits and how they are used to control aircraft. You may study the instruments that are used to report conditions in space.
The most common route for entering this field is a bachelor's degree in aeronautical engineering. This usually takes four, sometimes five years of full-time study beyond high school. About 90 colleges in the U.S. offer this program. You may also choose to take a five-year program that combines the bachelor's and master's degrees.
In addition, traditional master's and doctorate degrees are offered in this field. In general, master's degrees take two years to complete, and doctorate degrees take another three to five.