Flying high with a career in aeronautics

sky is the limit

Flying high with a career in aeronautics

Aeronautical technology offers excellent career prospects for its graduates — from R&D and careers in academia to careers as pilots and even investment banking.

All thanks to the transferable nature of the skills developed over the course of a degree in aeronautical engineering! Aeronautical technology courses taught at universities in the UK have a long record of enabling graduates of all nationalities to reach their potential, leading to excellent (and often lucrative) careers, particularly in the aero industry. Degrees in aeronautical technology equip students with the ability to solve technical problems but also encourages creativity.

Aeronautical technology courses generally include the study of mathematics, structures, and the analysis of loads and stress on components. The majority of courses will also stress on the study of materials science, which is a fast evolving subject in aerospace engineering. Design is used to bring all of the subjects together, and state of the art packages such as pre Engineer Creo, Alias and Ansys are used for design, stress analysis and fluid flow analysis. Other subjects studied in the pursuit of this include flight technology which covers everything from aircraft instruments, aircraft design, human factors, applied subsonic and supersonic aerodynamics, aircraft systems and operation and the design of a new aircraft from scratch.

Students will also be exposed to studying air crash investigation and analysis and aircraft propulsion systems, from small petrol engines, through the latest gas turbine engines, to rocket propulsion. Particular to Staffordshire University, new modules recently incorporated into the programme include a new design analysis module, plus a new module on UAV design.

Aeronautical technology is a practical subject — at Staffordshire University, all students are expected to undertake some flying at the local gliding club or even with the RAF University Air Squadron. The university has a PC-based flight simulator and students are encouraged to take flights on local commercial flight simulators, either in a Boeing 747, 737 or Airbus A320. This practical application and the development of skills outside of the classroom — a hallmark of a UK education — equips students for the world of work, increasing the attractiveness of graduates to industry.

In the UK, students are encouraged to apply for an industrial placement, or internship, before their final year of study. This often involves a year working in industry and is invaluable to students. IT allows them to develop their skills within an industrial setting, providing them with a competitive edge and encouraging students to explore different streams within aeronautical engineering. Employers are increasingly placing value on work placements and recognise the benefits of employing a graduate who has already been exposed to the world of work. It is often during a placement or ‘sandwich’ year when many students decide on the area in which they which to specialise upon graduation.

After graduating with an undergraduate degree, many students take the opportunity to continue their studies at university, developing specialist skills by taking up MSc degree. For them and the other graduates, there are two main career paths: one is becoming a pilot, the other is entering the engineering field. Becoming a pilot usually requires investment, in a PPL license, Instrument Rating, and eventually a type rating and an ATPL rating. Airlines often help cover the costs of the latter qualifications. However, students should not only consider careers working for commercial airlines but should also keep in mind niche areas — indeed, one of my former students is now flying helicopters in Africa for a wildlife film company!

When considering studying for a degree in aeronautical technology, students should check the accreditations attached to individual courses. Accreditations, for example by the IET, are a reflection of quality.

Students who complete degrees in this field are multi-skilled and should not underestimate the value of the ability to work effectively in a team; communicate at all levels; work to deadlines; be numerate; and manage design processes. Students should have a wide range of science-based transferable skills together with an in-depth understanding of aircraft, their systems and the aviation industry. This will open many doors in aviation related industries and beyond.

(The author is a senior lecturer at the School of Engineering within the Faculty of Computing, Engineering and Sciences of Staffordshire University, UK.)

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