Aeronautical engineering is the study of how things fly in the Earth's atmosphere and the application of that knowledge to design and build aircraft and missiles. It is a branch of aerospace engineering, which also includes astronautical engineering. There are many different subfields in aeronautical engineering, ranging from research and development to aircraft maintenance. The broad range of the field means that it is also very interdisciplinary, incorporating elements of math, electronics, and physics, among other things. There are many different types of jobs available in this field, but most require advanced degrees.
Areas of Focus
Aeronautical engineering encompasses an extremely broad range of areas, including the research and development, testing, assembly, and maintenance of aircraft and missiles and their parts. Other areas of focus include the effect that aircraft have on the surrounding environment, the potential dangers of specific aircraft, and their fuel and systems efficiency. Aeronautical engineers use many different elements in working on these areas, including math, electronics, software design, risk analysis, aerodynamics — the study of how air interacts with solid objects — and propulsion, which is the study of how to create enough force to achieve and remain in flight. The design of aircraft systems, or avionics, is also an important subfield, as is materials selection, which involves choosing materials that can withstand large amounts of force but are relatively light.
Aeronautical engineers tend to specialize in one or more of the areas above, but they also often work together with other specialists. Some areas of employment in this field include fuel efficiency testing, airframe design, engine design, flight testing, and investigating airplane crashes. Other jobs include gathering information through test flights, interpreting aircraft performance data, supervising the assembly of aircraft and missiles, analyzing the environmental impacts of flights, and assessing the potential risks of new aircraft designs. Training for aeronautical engineering varies regionally, but almost always includes a graduate degree. Some universities offer degrees in this field specifically, but degrees in related fields like mathematics, physics, and mechanical engineering can be useful as well.
Aeronautical vs. Astronautical Engineering
The main difference between aeronautical and astronautical engineering is the physical area of focus. Aeronautical engineering focuses on flight within the Earth's atmosphere, while astronautical engineering focuses on the research of space flight and the design of spacecraft and satellites. This includes research on how to best launch spacecraft and the effects the surrounding environment has on them, as well as developing systems to control spacecraft and designing materials that can withstand space flight. Like aeronautics, astronautical engineering is highly technical and very interdisciplinary.