How to become the next Kelly Johnson

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A nephew of mine exressed intrest in being a aerospace engineer and
wanted to know what the steps were to achieve that position. For
instance what college degrees would he need to apply for a job at
hawker-beechcraft or any other aerospace companies.

-- Jared Branson, August 2, 2010


Hawker-Beechcraft has announced plans to downsize and move as much production to Mexico as possible. So I guess your nephew should become fluent in Spanish if he is not already. Many colleges have degrees in aerospace engineering, so that's an obvious choice. There probably won't be another here in the U.S. since the U.S. process for designing military equipment has changed so much (much slower and more bureaucratic now).

Aerospace engineering jobs should follow aerospace production. It might be easiest for your nephew to prepare for a career in China, e.g., by learning Mandarin. China is likely going to be the country with the most rapid growth in aircraft manufacturing (and they are already poised to take a leadership position in electric airplanes).

-- Philip Greenspun, August 2, 2010

I wish him luck. I started in an Aero Engineering program, but switched to another engineering discipline for my degrees (which I don't do anymore - go figure).

There's a lot of talk in the industry about a dearth of young aerospace and aerospace-oriented mechanical engineers in the industry, but Phil hits on some good points. General aviation is contracting, and won't be expanding for quite a while. The airliner market is going well, although more of it is going out of country, if you're in the USA (Bombardier C-Series, Embraer in the smaller airplanes, Boeing outsourcing engineering processes in the larger ones). Military claims that their concerned about the "aging out" of their workforce, but they're also likely to cut back on projects in the current budget environment.

Also as Alan mentioned, you probably won't see a singular engineer who dominates a program like Kelly Johnson did. I recently listened to an interview of some of the Skunk Works engineers that worked on the A-12 and SR-71, and they pointed out that there were only something like 100 engineers on that project, while the Rockwell B-1 had 5,000 engineers, and probably very few names that anyone would actually recognize (maybe Lee Atwood had some involvement). So, he's right - it's getting more bureaucratic. If he wants to be a cutting edge innovator, there may be more room in the Unmanned Aerial Vehicle area (UAV, or UCAV, if you like dropping explosives - the "C" stands for Combat).

Go to a library and look through back issues of Aviation Week, or figure out how to get them online on Zinio (that will cost some money). Every once in a while, they'll do a big article about aerospace employment. That would give you a big picture view of the industry and where the demand is.

-- Mike Zaharis, November 16, 2010

Sorry - realize I said "Alan" when I meant "Phil."

-- Mike Zaharis, November 16, 2010

Also, I apologize for the grammar errors I see when I reread my post - below my personal expectations.

-- Mike Zaharis, November 16, 2010