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Engineering A career in Aerospace Control Systems with an Engineering Physics degree?

  1. Nov 10, 2008 #1
    Hello, first time poster (can't say im a long time reader) and i've been looking for the answer to a question in regards to Aerospace Engineering. First a bit of background about my degree.

    I graduated with a bachelor's degree in Engineering Physics with a focus on electrical engineering. I have alot of career interests and control systems is definitely one of them because it can be applied to so many things (electrical/mechanical..even biological). I've taken only two courses related to control systems (i regret that i did not take more) : Introduction to Control Systems (which covers basic stuff like PID, LTI systems, Nyquist plots) and an Introduction to Robotics Course. The intro to robotics course gave me greater background in controls and had a neat project in controlling a simple double-pendulum robot in a simulation using Matlab/Simulink. In doing so, i became familiar with controls being applied to complex mechanical systems as well as "control laws" (Side note: plus my Eng Phys course experience in Classical Mechanics helped me in understanding the Lagrangian dynamics for the robot kinematics/dynamics). So with that being said:

    I know for a fact that an aircraft cannot work without control systems.. its a fundamental part of how its able to fly. The problem is i dont know enough about aerospace since i was in an electrical-engineering option of Eng Phys. I'm pretty interested about the subject, i've read a few wiki articles about the inertial sensors and the onboard autonomous flight control used for auto-piloting. Through taking robotics i'm sort of familiar with Control Laws and im fairly certain that Aircrafts/Satellites use something similar to plot trajectories but probably use control laws that differ from robotics. Also, the term "Guidance-Navigation-Control" , is it a generic name used specifically for Aerospace control systems? Would my experience in the Intro to Robotics Course be considered "GNC" experience?

    So with that out of the way: how suitable would it be for someone like me to attempt a career in Aerospace Engineering (with a focus of working with Control Laws / Control Systems)? I've applied to quite a few Aerospace jobs and i get the feeling that they are reluctant to hire someone without the Aerospace knowledge. i'm aiming for entry level positions since im a recent graduate but i'm not having much luck. Another draw back is that i'm not a American Citizen and i'm seeing tons of opportunities in places that require a security clearance / US citiznship.

    Any thoughts, suggestions, books, recommendations are welcomed.
  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 10, 2008 #2
  4. Nov 11, 2008 #3
    We hire a lot of people with physics backgrounds, but usually they have a masters or better.
  5. Nov 16, 2008 #4
    i'm also thinking of entering this field and would be curious for mroe input
  6. Nov 21, 2008 #5
    I do agree with wildman in that since I am a recent graduate with a master's degree, it has certainly gotten me a lot more job interviews! (Still waiting patiently for someone to hire me, though! :D )

    Getting a masters may not be as bad as you think, however. I knew several physics majors who, after getting their BS in physics, did an MS in mechanical or aerospace engineering. The adjustment is not bad at all. Also, the fact that you focused on the electrical side of your physics may not necessarily be a bad thing either (I can't say for sure since I do not exactly what you were taught here). Right now, it seems like most of the entry level positions in controls are being offered to Electrical Engineers or Computer Science people, because programming plays a HUGE part in a control system. Ultimately, however, people who can talk software and mechanics are priceless to a company when it comes to designing a controls system.

    How suited would you be to pursue leaning about aerospace controls? You are very suited. My experience with physics majors is that they tend to know a little more about dynamics then ME's or AE's because they learn things like Lagrange's Equation which I did not learn as an undergraduate...a plus for you! Your knowledge is lacking in basic aircraft stability and control...I typically recommend Aircraft Stability and Control by Robert Nelson or Automatic Control of Aircraft and Missiles by John Blakelock. Nelson's book is easier to understand but the discussion is not as complete as Blakelock's and there are errors in the equations of Nelson's book. I might recommend a class (or reading) in aerodynamics because there are a lot of aerodynamic coefficients which determine the stability and flight performance of an aircraft.
  7. Nov 25, 2008 #6

    Excellent insight, thanks. Unfortunately i dont have too much programming experience (some C, C++, some basic microcontroller programming), since my background mainly focused on physics and elec engineering (i think it wouldnt of hurt to have taken computational physics courses). I am thinking of becoming more of a controls designer, working with simulink for instance and tweaking values in simulation rather than just straight programming implementation (its working with the physics/dynamics of the system is what excites me). I've talked to an aerospace engineer who says that his work is mainly focused on designing the control algorithms, doing some simulink simulation on the side and managing the programmers to ensure that his algorithm is being implemented correctly. I think this is the sort of area i would like to work in, however this particular person is quite qualified (im pretty sure he has phd). He also does some controller tweaking using basic low level programming.

    Suppose I were to apply to an entry level control systems engineer for aerospace systems, with my Eng Phys experience do you think its possible to pick up the aerospace knowledge or programming that i havent learned through pure experience? I'm guessing it depends on the company, some would probably be more resourceful than others for new grads.
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