Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

Aerospace Aerospace vs mechanical engineering

  1. Apr 13, 2008 #1
    Hi everyone!

    I'm entering university next year for mechanical, but recently discovered that I may be more interested in making airplanes than robots or engines. But if someone can elaborate on what kind of stuff mechanical engineers do, it would be great as my exposure to engineering is quite limited. In terms of math and physics, do aerospace/mechanical differ in any way?

    Will I be at a disadvantage if I'm trying to get into the industry with a mechanical degree as opposed to aerospace? My rationale is that if I don't make it into the aerospace industry (heard it was quite limited), at least I can fall back on manufacturing... I was thinking of transferring after second year or even going for a Masters in Aerospace if landing a job in the industry will be significantly harder with a mech degree...
  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 13, 2008 #2
    Mechanical and Aerospace engineering, at least where I went to school, are very closely related. In fact, they offered a dual degree which only required an extra semester and a half of coursework to cover both degrees.

    The main thing is, an aerospace engineer undergraduate will have a much harder time getting mechanical engineering jobs without any experience. A mechanical engineer will probably have a wider variety of employment options, because they aren't as specialized. I would suggest looking at the curriculum for both and comparing. I bet you will find few differences until the last year or two.

    As for a masters in Aerospace, you will probably have an easier time getting a job in something related to your masters.

    I would strongly suggest, however, supplementing your schoolwork with internships every summer that you aren't taking classes, and apply EARLY, in fact, this fall I would immediately apply for any summer '09 internship I could get my hands on. It'll make you more employable in the long run, and additionally give you a perspective beyond academia.


    Also, there are plenty of Mechanical engineers in the aerospace industry. They usually have a stronger background in machines and some other areas than aerospace engineers do, but that will depend on the program. I don't think you'll hurt yourself at all by doing a MechE undergrad supplemented with aerospace internships, if you can get them.

    Also, JOIN CLUBS. I missed a lot of good opportunities by not sticking to the clubs that I joined. I'm sure that any small aerospace-related clubs (satellite design, design-build-fly, micro-air-vehicle) will gladly welcome an eager MechE. Just make sure you get in the club and start volunteering time and producing things. That will also benefit you greatly.

    I don't think you'll get much benefit out of a dual degree. You will probably get far more out of a degree in MechE then a masters in Aerospace, salary and overall experience-wise.
    Last edited: Apr 13, 2008
  4. Apr 13, 2008 #3
    Thanks for the advice. Unfortunately, the school I go to does not have ANY aerospace clubs, but I will be sure to try and get internships in the industry.
  5. Apr 13, 2008 #4


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor

    I am an ME working in aerospace. It all boils down to how well you do in your chosen school path and exactly what jobs you will be applying for. An ME will have a tough time applying for an aerodynamicist's position. However there are a ton of jobs that fit either, for example a structures position.
  6. Apr 13, 2008 #5
    Are you sure they don't have any clubs?

    If you're really enthusiastic about it, you might go crazy and talk to a professor about starting a club. I think the experience of that, even if it doesn't take off successfully, might be useful because it requires leadership, communication, and salesmanship. Things like that are very useful.

    It's all up to how you perceive your own education. If you think it's the school's job to hand it all to you on a platter, then you won't get as much from your education as someone who actively seeks and creates what he desires.
  7. Apr 14, 2008 #6


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor

    Aerospace engineering evolved from mechanical engineering applied to aeronautics (aviations), and then after 1945, aerospace (rockets, missiles and spacecraft).

    If a university has an aerospace department, look for a student chapter of AIAA ( www.aiaa.org ). If there isn't one, start one with the faculty. If one is interested in aeronautics and/or astronautics (aerospace), I strongly recommends AIAA.

    Aerospace engineering might put more emphasis on gas dynamics (particularly supersonic/hypersonic flows) than mechanical engineering, but that's just one minor difference. One could check different MechEng and AeroEng curricula to compare differences.

    Like any engineering discpline, these days, I strongly recommend diversification, i.e. in addition to gaining expertise in one's specialty in Mech and Aero, one should be familiar with other fields or subfields. Particular, have a familiarity with materials, mechanics of materials, and computational (problem solving and programming) methods is essential to maintaining progress in industry.
  8. Apr 15, 2008 #7
    I have a question of my own relating to Aero and Mech engineering...I understand both are very broad fields, but in general, what jobs are most common for each field? Like, out of University with a fresh degree, what can one expect to do as part of their career for Mechanical Engineering or Aerospace Engineering?
  9. Apr 15, 2008 #8
    For my case (Aerospace Engineering), fresh out of college, I had the opportunity to do space vehicle structures (if I remember correctly, space shuttle components) because I had some experience in undergraduate in composite materials (an elective). I also had potentials with Boeing working on propulsion and also another one on manufacturing work, but I turned all of those down to go to graduate school.

    Then I dropped out of grad school and got a job in the space industry.

    I could've had a job that's somewhat aerospace related (designing ground based turbines for GE through an outsource company), but I chose space hardware instead.

    The MechE's that I know worked for places like Siemens, a paper mill, an aerospace company (satellite hardware), etc. Some work on shop floors and coordinate technicians, others manage, and others design.
Share this great discussion with others via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook