Aircraft engineering is a branch that deals with airspace development, airport design, aircraft navigation tech., and aerodrome planning. It also involves the formulation of public policy, regulations, and aviation laws pertaining to airspace, airlines, airports, aerodromes, and the conduct of air services agreements through treaties.
This branch of engineering is distinct from aerospace engineering which deals with the development of aircraft and spacecraft.
Aircraft engineers, like other engineers, address commercial and practical issues using scientific and mathematical ideas. They are a type of aerospace or aeronautical engineering technology that aids in developing, managing, maintaining, and testing aircraft manufacturing.
What Is Aircraft Engineering?
Aircraft engineering designs new airplanes or oversees the production of existing aircraft designs. As an aircraft engineer, your duties revolve around using physical, mathematical, and engineering principles to address flight problems and how to improve aircraft design.
You work to increase the fuel efficiency, speed, and safety features of a plane, as well as create comfortable interior features.
You often work as part of a large team, overseeing the design, budgeting, and production of new aircraft. Some aircraft engineers work at airports, managing the daily maintenance and safety checks of planes.
History of The Airplane
Early History Of Flight:
Leonardo Da Vinci
The concept of human flight has been around since at least the sixteenth century, with designs for gliders being traced back to Leonardo Da Vinci.
Many original designs for aircraft focused on imitating birds, with feathers and wings being central points. These were known as ornithopters, machines that imitated birds’ wings with flapping motions.
In the 18th century, hot air balloons became more viable, with people being able to take short trips in them. However, this mode of transport was highly unpredictable and difficult to control.
Sir George Caley
The first true iteration of the airplane was built by Sir George Caley in England, a kite with a movable tail that allowed it to navigate through the air. In 1799, he defined the forces of lift and drag, as axiomatic in the field of aviation.
It wasn’t until the 19th century that aircraft with fixed wings and propulsion systems began to be designed. In 1874, Felix Du Temple was the first person to attempt powered flight with a steam-driven monoplane.
However, it wasn’t until the 1890s that Otto Lilienthal managed a sustained controlled flight with a glider that we could steer by shifting his body weight.
The Wright Brothers
The first sustained, controlled flight in an aircraft was achieved by the Wright Brothers in 1903.
It wasn’t until 1905 that they believed they had a practical flying machine. The 1905 Flyer was the first aircraft to have three-axis control and would form the basis of all future planes.
The Development Of Powered Flight
Lawrence Hargrave invented the rotary engine, a huge step forward for powered flight. The powered flight allowed for greater control and increased range, and made the flight a viable method of transportation. Soon people were studying aviation and learning to become pilots.
Louis Bleriot was the first person to successfully fly across the English Channel. This had important strategic implications for the use of planes as potential weapons, something which would be put to use in the years to come.
Harriet Quimby became the first female licensed pilot in the US.
Igor Sikorsky created a large four-engine bi-plane that was capable of flying long distances, complete with dual controls for a pilot and a co-pilot, cabin lighting, bed, and toilet. It was used for both private and military roles.
Planes In World War I
Being able to attack from the air was an exciting concept for armed forces during the First World War. By 1914, planes had been refined and were far more reliable than they had been just a decade earlier.
While they didn’t revolutionize warfare at the time, they played an important part in raids, and their early use in combat would pave the way for more vital roles in future wars.
In 1919 Hugo Junkers created the first mass-produced metal aircraft, which would go on to dominate the nascent aviation industry. Over 300 models were shipped worldwide.
The Spirit Of St Louis
The first non-stop transatlantic flight was completed in 1927, by Charles Lindbergh in the Spirit of St Louis. The flight took 33 hours.
Planes In World War II
By the time the world descended into a global war for the second time, planes had been greatly improved as weapons. Fighters and bombers became commonplace, and would routinely be seen in the skies above combat zones.
The fighter plane has been through many different iterations, learn about the future of the fighter jet.
After World War II, there was a focus on creating stealth planes that couldn’t be detected by radar. This peaked with the development of the Lockheed Blackbird during the Cold War.
Supersonic flight has been around since 1947 when the Bell X-1 was the first aircraft to break the sound barrier.
Concorde made a successful business out of supersonic flights in the 1970s, before closing down. But there is now a renewed interest in supersonic flight, thanks to improved designs.
What are the types of aircraft engineers?
Aircraft engineers are specialized professionals who can work within a range of subfields. Some of these types of engineers include:
1- Aeronautical and aerospace engineers
Aeronautics and aerospace engineering are the main fields in which aircraft engineers commonly work.
In aeronautics, engineers often work on plans, designs, and construction blueprints for aircraft and related components, such as jet propulsion systems, mechanical parts, navigation instruments, and communications systems.
Aerospace engineers also work with aircraft, but they focus more of their work on the development of spacecraft and the systems and components that are necessary for space flight.
These engineers can focus their careers in specialized fields within aeronautics and aerospace, including electrical, mechanical, software and manufacturing engineering.
2- Electronics and systems engineers
Engineers who design and develop aircraft instrumentation and communication systems usually specialize in electronics and systems engineering.
These specialists design and integrate the electronics and instruments pilots use to operate aircraft, including system gauges, communications technology, radar systems, navigation systems, and electrical controls for various parts on propeller planes, helicopters, and jets.
Systems engineers may also work with robotics and artificial intelligence to implement control systems and programs that aid pilots in operating their aircraft.
3- Software and computer engineers
Aircraft engineers can also have expertise in software design and computer programming. Software and computer engineers who work in the aeronautical specialty often develop, integrate, and test the software and system programs many modern aircraft require to operate.
They also work with other engineering specialists to bring entire design projects to completion. Software engineers and computer programmers are integral to the design and development of electronic systems, navigation, and computerized operations that spacecraft use in flight.
4- Mechanical and structural engineers
Mechanical engineers who work in aeronautics specialize in the mechanics and structural design process for building aircraft. They help design and improve the mechanical and structural elements of an aircraft, including frameworks, engine parts, landing gear, and hydraulic components.
In addition, mechanical engineers are often in charge of aircraft feasibility testing, where they evaluate the aerodynamics, operational efficiency, and structural integrity of an aircraft. Many of these kinds of aircraft engineers also perform the repairs and maintenance necessary to keep aircraft safe and operational.
5- Manufacturing and industrial engineers
Manufacturing and industrial engineers may also specialize in aircraft or aeronautical engineering.
Manufacturing engineers oversee the production processes that companies use to develop aircraft parts and components and develop initiatives that improve the overall manufacturing process.
Industrial engineers who work in the aeronautical sector may also direct and develop processes that improve aircraft manufacturing by integrating personnel, factory procedures, and logistics to support the development of company products.
How to become an aircraft engineer
The following steps give a general outline of the requirements to enter a career as an aircraft engineer:
1. Earn your bachelor’s degree
The minimum requirements to work as an aeronautical or aircraft engineer include a bachelor’s degree. Many prospective aeronautical engineers complete their four-year degrees in engineering, including in fields like electrical, mechanical, and structural engineering.
Regardless of your engineering major, coursework typically covers physics, mathematics, classical mechanics, electronics and components, aerodynamics and fluid dynamics, and core engineering principles.
2. Choose a specialty
You can specialize in avionics or aeronautical fields for your career. Depending on your specialty, certification may be a requirement in addition to your engineering degree.
3. Gain engineering experience
It’s beneficial to gain professional experience, either during or immediately following your four-year degree. Gaining experience in your field of aircraft engineering can also help you develop additional skills you can use to impress employers when seeking engineering positions.
4. Obtain your engineering license
As you gain professional experience through an internship or as a junior engineer, you can take the exam to earn your Professional Engineering (PE) license. It’s also important to research your state’s requirements for any additional licensing you may need to work in your career field.