Aerospace engineers may specialize in:
- flight testing or simulation
- structures and materials
- structural dynamics
- mass and weight analysis
- stress analysis
- propulsion systems
- systems analysis
- avionics systems
- navigation systems
- human factors and safety systems
- project management
- component and system design
- qualification testing of components
- stability, control and performance of flight systems
- manufacturing: machining, forming and joining aerospace materials and composites
- related products (such as military aircraft, helicopters, UAVs, surveillance systems, simulators, ground stations, satellites or rockets)
- armament / ammunition and explosives
Those who specialize in aerodynamics deal with the forces created by motion through the air. They consider this as it relates to aircraft performance. Working with design engineers, they use computers and wind tunnels to simulate flight. This helps them to:
- design aircraft and rocket vehicles
- design spacecraft that can fly through the atmosphere
- analyze and test how airflow affects the structures they design
- determine the aerodynamic loads used by structural engineers (see below)
Structural engineers determine whether an aircraft or spacecraft will be able to safely carry the loads it is designed to carry. Through structural and stress analysis and testing, they figure out safety margins for aircraft, rockets and spacecraft.
Design engineers design and develop new aircraft, spacecraft and their components. They also improve upon existing designs. Design engineers:
- analyze the limits of aircraft and spacecraft design as it relates to:
- propulsion systems.
- figure out how the above factors affect the craft, and find ways to reduce their effects
- conduct fretting fatigue analyses
- plan the timing of engineering and design tasks to avoid manufacturing problems and reduce effects on the environment
- use computer-aided design (CAD) software to create drawings and standards for performance from design specifications.
Aerospace engineers specialize in experimental testing. They build models and analyze prototypes to test the aerodynamics, stability, control, propulsion and structural performance of a proposed design. They:
- change the design and study test results to find out how factors like weight distribution affect the design
- test how well aircraft, spacecraft or components will perform by:
- finding out the conditions in which the vehicles will most likely operate
- recording the conditions when the vehicles are tested.
Materials engineers select the types of materials to be used in each section of the aircraft or spacecraft. These choices ensure materials used have high strength-to-weight ratios and can resist heat or cold. They:
- decide which processes will make materials usable without destroying their desired properties (such as heat treating or plating)
- prepare specifications and procedures for using each material and treatment process
- advise the engineering, manufacturing and quality control departments on the properties, application, treatment, salvage and substitution of materials.
Project management engineers develop work plans and schedules to ensure that quality products are produced on time without cost increases. Project management engineers:
- estimate costs
- coordinate work flow
- work with other engineers to solve technical problems related to production
- apply ISO (International Organization for Standardization) principles and procedures
- supervise each stage of the production process to make sure production schedules are met until the project is completed.