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Engineering Questions for an aeronautical/space engineer

  1. Apr 3, 2016 #1
    Hey everyone. So I have been considering a career in either aerospace engineering or a computer programming job. (I’m 16 btw) Obviously, I am posting this because I have some questions that I need an AE to answer. There is, after all, only so much one can learn from google. What I do know about AE is:

    · It requires a bachelor’s degree
    · You design and analysis aircraft parts

    I have questions that I haven’t been able to find an answer to online.

    1. When you prioritize projects, which projects are prioritized and why?
    2. What goes into deciding which projects get prioritized over others?
    3. What tools do you use to design the parts?
    4. How much programming do you do?
    5. What computer languages would be the best to learn?
    6. Knowing what you know now, what would you do differently if you could go back in time?
    7. How much contact with people do you have to do? Things like phone calls etc.
    8. How much math is involved in designing components?
    9. Is there something similar to AE I can do at home so I can get a feel for what its like?

    I think I would go for the aerodynamics area in AE over the other ones. There seem to be a lot of areas an AE could get involved in and I would prefer something to do with aerodynamics as it holds the most interest for me. Now for number 9, im someone that needs to try something before I know I like it or not. I have to actually do an activity before I know if its something I like doing. I already program a little bit and I know its something I like doing but I want to see what AE is really all about before I make a firm decision on a career.
  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 3, 2016 #2
    Think of Aeronautical Engineering sort of like a specialized version of mechanical engineering. Furthermore, there are several engineering fields that are commonly found in aerospace projects, not just aeronautical.

    Your questions do not have simple answers.
    For example, your first and second questions are often the result of engineering management, not engineering itself. The answers can range all over the place based upon "quick-wins," "long term financial goals," "political expediency" and other such lovely means.

    As for tools and programming, most engineers I know are able to hack a program together in some language or another. No matter what language or modeling platform you choose to use, it is extremely important that you understand its limitations and where the differential equations you use will start getting squirrely.

    It is also extremely important that you know how to confirm your results on the back of an envelope. I really mean this. I've had arguments with other engineers who are totally reliant on their modeling software and they see nothing wrong with this. So if there is a failure, will they blame the modeling software?

    You must have an intuitive feel for what you're doing and to know where to leave in a safety factor. I have seen work from engineers who design "with an extremely sharp pencil" and I have nothing nice to say about the outcome of their designs. My mentors told me that if I can't get a rough solution on a plain scientific calculator, STOP. Find the work of those who came before you. They have reduced most problem to useful approximations. If you do not know of these quick and dirty techniques, LEARN THEM. Further, if you can not find any such approximations, I strongly suggest you develop them.

    Another point I have made time and time again: You are not in the business of turning coffee in to designs. You need to understand the goals of the project, the customers, the operational considerations, fabrication issues, getting trained on various new things, and so forth. Most of my day is spent on the phone, traveling to sites, meeting with people, and so on. If you're spending an average of more than 30% of your typical days designing, you're probably doing something wrong.

    Concerning math, people get scared of it for no good reason. I think it is because math is often used as a hazing tool in schools to scare away the "less committed" candidates. It is also because the math is often taught by mathematics professors, not engineering professors. So the applicability and focus of what you learn in the math class is skewed toward the theoretical side of things, not the practical.

    If you're really curious about aeronautical engineering, why not learn to pilot airplanes? You will learn many practical, hands-on things about airplanes and how they came to be designed that way. You'll learn about navigation, engine performance, weather concerns, and failure modes. You might offer your assistance refueling or washing aircraft at the local general aviation airport. With a bit of enthusiasm, you may get some flight time in some amazing aircraft.

    This background will help immensely should you decide to study this field as an engineering student.

    Good luck!

    (by the way, in addition to being an engineer, I'm also a pilot)
  4. Apr 3, 2016 #3

    Vanadium 50

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    I remember once when one of my engineers came to me and said "The FEA tells me that the force is negative. What does this mean?" It means that had he done what was in the model, he would have tipped the object over.
  5. Apr 3, 2016 #4


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    From the prospective of working for a large companies.
    In general the projects you work on are chosen from the people above you. You will be asked to provide insight into what the projects might acomplish in the future, and how much it will cost.
    For the most part $$$$$$ chooses what project takes priority. Keep in mind money can be get cash short term, long term, check out new technology that could lead to money, make the company look good, etc.There are very few aerospace companies whose end goal is not to make money

    The tools entirely depend on what your job is. As an engineer you most likely will not be machining the parts. But it is very likely you will be testing them. It is also likely that you will need to know how the parts are machined. A good way to have knowledge of this, get a job at a machine shop.

    Like jake said you will use many programning languages. Learn C/C++. From there you can jump to many different languages.

    If you're interested in aerodynamics there are two things that you might concentrate in during college.
    1. controls
    2. fluids

    controls covers, you guessed it, the control of the airframe. A good way to learn more about this is to buy/build a UAV and mess around with it.
    look for aeroquad or arducopter.

    fluids concerns the study of the physics of fluids (air is considered a fluid in this case) and how it effects the aircraft.
    below is a link that will show you how to build your own wind tunnel for <100$
  6. May 8, 2016 #5
    Building RC planes or rockets is a great way to explore the basics. I've probably learned more about aircraft design from building cheap RC airframes than most of the publications I've read about it. There's a lot of purely anecdotal knowledge you can only really get through experience, and RC is a pretty cheap way to get some. Check out flitetest.com for some good info on the RC world.
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