The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that there were 81,000 aerospace engineers and 243,200 mechanical engineers employed in 2010. Both occupations use the principles of engineering to design, develop and test devices, tools and equipment. Aerospace engineers work on missiles, aircraft, spacecraft and satellites while mechanical engineers work on mechanical devices and tools.
Job Descriptions and Duties
Mechanical engineers study a problem to determine how a mechanical device can resolve it. The engineer designs and tests the device and oversees its production. Aerospace engineers design, manufacture and test aircraft and the products that the aerospace industry uses. Both mechanical and aerospace engineers develop quality standards for the products and devices they design. Aerospace engineers may specialize in aeronautical or astronautical engineering. Aeronautical engineers work on aircraft and aircraft systems. Astronautical engineers work with spacecraft.
Engineering Education Requirements
The minimum requirement for mechanical and aerospace engineers is a bachelor’s degree. Bachelor’s degree programs in mechanical engineering include courses in mathematics, engineering principles, physical science and engineering design. Aerospace engineering programs include courses in propulsion, aerodynamics, mechanics, engineering principles and design. Aerospace and mechanical engineering programs also may require students to complete an internship in the field. Master’s degrees are available for mechanical and aerospace engineering students and some schools offer five-year programs that lead to a bachelor’s and master’s degree. States require a license for engineers who offer their services to the public. To obtain a mechanical or aerospace engineer’s license, applicants must pass the Fundamentals of Engineering examination, gain experience in the field and pass the Principles and Practice of Engineering examination. The American Society of Mechanical Engineers offers certification for mechanical engineers.
The median annual salary for aerospace engineers was $103,720 in 2012, according to the BLS. The nonscheduled air transportation industry paid the highest salary to aerospace engineers in 2012 with a mean annual salary of $130,640. The median annual salary for mechanical engineers in 2012 was $80,580. Mechanical engineers earned the highest salary from the oil and gas extraction industry with a mean annual salary of $128,650. Aerospace engineers earned the highest salaries in 2012 when comparing the mean annual salary for both occupations in the same states, according to the BLS. For example, California aerospace engineers earned a mean annual salary of $112,200 while mechanical engineers earned $94,420. In Texas, aerospace engineers earned $105,020 and mechanical engineers earned $92,470. Aerospace engineers in Ohio earned $101,670 and mechanical engineers earned $75,350.
A career in aerospace engineering is best suited for those with an interest in aircraft and spacecraft while those who enjoy solving problems with mechanical devices and tools should pursue a career in mechanical engineering. The length of time to complete the education requirements for both careers is the same.