An aeronautical engineer oversees the research and development of different types of aircraft. He or she works with advanced computer software to design new crafts, create detailed schematics, and conduct simulated test runs. The engineer also supervises workers as they build prototypes and models, ensuring that all elements are constructed exactly to specifications. Aeronautical engineers work in many different settings, including military agencies, government air and space programs, and private aircraft manufacturing plants.
Many aeronautical engineers specialize by working with a certain type of aircraft or a particular internal system. Some professionals design commercial jetliners, while others conceive plans for new helicopters and passenger planes. A military aeronautical engineer may develop manned or unmanned planes designed for combat, special operations, or recovery missions. All types of aircraft are comprised of complex electrical and mechanical systems, and it is common for an engineer to work exclusively with engines, navigation boards, or propulsion systems.
An aeronautical engineer who is in charge of developing a new craft generally begins the process by researching existing crafts and technologies. He or she identifies desirable features to incorporate into the new design and analyzes areas that can be improved. The engineer relies on his or her expert knowledge of physics to work out every small detail of a design. Computer programs help the aeronautical engineer draw blueprints and test the design under simulated conditions.
Once the engineer is confident in the plans, the prototype construction phase can begin. He or she oversees other engineering experts as they build the new craft. A completed prototype is put through rigorous ground tests in wind tunnels and other simulated conditions. If a certain part or system fails, the engineer analyzes what went wrong and what to do in order to remedy the situation. A successful prototype can be piloted on an actual flight to gather additional data. The engineer typically creates detailed reports about test flights and makes the final decision to begin mass production of the craft.
A person who wants to become an aeronautical engineer typically needs to obtain an advanced degree in the specialty. Engineering students develop the skills and knowledge they need in advanced physics, mathematics, computer science, and chemistry classes. Most new workers begin their careers as mechanics or junior engineers at aircraft manufacturing facilities. With experience and continuing education, an aeronautical engineer can earn the right to begin conducting independent research and lead teams of professionals on original projects.