Careers in Aerospace, Aviation & Defense
Aerospace is a contraction of the words aeronautics and space flight. A career in aerospace research and engineering contributes to the manufacture of (1) aircraft and jet engines, (2) surface-fired and air-launched missiles for military use, (3) spacecraft and launch vehicles, and (4) equipment on the ground and in the air needed to support (1), (2), and (3).
All countries together spend over a trillion dollars per year on military defense, with the US accounting for well over half that amount. Most of the jobs the defense sector come from the US government's annual budget of around $80 billion for research, development, and testing. While this amount includes land-based weapons and naval systems, a large amount goes to military aircraft and satellites. Lockheed Martin Corporation, The Boeing Company, and Raytheon Company in the US and BAE Systems Limited in Britain are major defense contractors. General Electric Company and Pratt & Whitney in the US and Rolls-Royce in Britain dominate the production of large jet engines.
The reason there are so many career opportunities in the aerospace industry is that modern flight vehicles operate under severe conditions. This means there are job opportunities for physicists qualified to make progress in fields such as aerodynamics, avionics, materials science, propulsion, and computer science. To be successful in a career in aerospace requires being able to work with a team of engineers, each specializing in a branch of science.
The largest number of job opportunities in aviation revolve around producing and maintaining aircraft and jet engines. A career in missiles for military use might involve research and development of global positioning systems, inertial guidance systems, and miniature television homing systems. Working on spacecraft and launch vehicles can mean a job designing earth-orbiting satellites that transmit radio signals from cellular telephones, television broadcasting stations, and a number of other wireless communications systems. The US military maintains 24 satellites as part of the global positioning system (GPS), which is an electronic satellite navigation system. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) uses research satellites to observe Earth, other planets and their moons, comets, stars, and galaxies.
The space shuttle is the only piloted spacecraft produced in the US and is designed to withstand 100 missions. There are career opportunities with the many different aerospace contractors that contribute to the shuttle's design, construction, and maintenance. There are also jobs in the design and building of launch vehicles—rockets that propel spacecraft out of Earth's atmosphere and into space.
The fourth category of aerospace career opportunities encompasses the thousands of different pieces of equipment and equipment systems found on flight vehicles and ground-based flight support facilities. There are jobs with firms that specialize in flight and engine controls for various flight vehicles. The space shuttle orbiter has more than 2,000 different controls and displays in the crew compartment. There are many career opportunities with firms that design and build instruments for flight navigation and radar systems, landing gear, flight data recorders, and cabin-pressure control systems. There are jobs for physicists with companies that specialize in building state-of-the-art guidance systems, such as infrared heat-seeking devices and computer navigational systems.