Aerospace engineering and operations technicians operate and maintain equipment used in testing new aircraft and spacecraft. Increasingly, these workers are being required to program and run computer simulations that test new designs. Their work is critical in preventing the failure of key parts of new aircraft, spacecraft, or missiles. They also help in quality assurance, testing, and operation of advanced technology equipment used in producing aircraft and the systems that go into the aircraft.

Duties

Aerospace engineering and operations technicians typically do the following:

  • Meet with aerospace engineers to discuss details and implications of test procedures
  • Build and maintain test facilities for aircraft systems
  • Make and install parts and systems to be tested in test equipment
  • Operate and calibrate computer systems so that they comply with test requirements
  • Ensure that test procedures are performed smoothly and safely
  • Record data from test parts and assemblies
  • Install instruments in aircraft and spacecraft
  • Monitor and ensure quality in producing systems that go into the aircraft 

New aircraft designs undergo years of testing before they are put into service, because the failure of key parts during flight can be fatal. As part of the job, technicians often calibrate test equipment, such as wind tunnels, and determine the causes of equipment malfunctions. They also may program and run computer simulations that test the new designs.

Work of aerospace engineering and operations technicians involves additive manufacturing, also known as 3D printing, which some workers in this occupation are beginning to specialize in.

Work Environment

Aerospace engineering and operations technicians held about 9,900 jobs in 2012. They usually work full time in laboratories, offices, and manufacturing or industrial plants. Many are exposed to hazards from equipment or from toxic materials, but incidents are rare as long as proper procedures are followed.

The industries that employed the most aerospace engineering and operations technicians in 2012 were as follows:

Aerospace product and parts manufacturing 37%
Navigational, measuring, electromedical, and
control instruments manufacturing
18
Architectural, engineering, and related services 14
Communications equipment manufacturing 6
Scheduled air transportation 4

Aerospace engineering and operations technicians are physically active in constructing the designs that aerospace engineers develop. Consequently, these technicians often work directly in manufacturing or industrial plants, where they help to assemble aircraft, missiles, and spacecraft away from an office environment.

Work Schedules

Aerospace engineering and operations technicians have opportunities for employment throughout the private sector, with large and small manufacturing organizations, as well as with engineering services firms. Schedules worked tend to parallel those of the engineering and operations staff members.

Education and Training

Aerospace engineering and operations technicians with an associate’s degree in engineering technology are increasingly being preferred by employers because of the advanced technologies being used in design, test, and production. Prospective technicians also may earn certificates or diplomas offered by vocational or technical schools. Some aerospace engineering and operations technicians must have security clearances to work on projects related to national defense. U.S. citizenship may be required for certain types and levels of clearances.

Education

High school students interested in becoming aerospace engineering and operations technicians should take classes in math, science, and, if available, drafting and computer skills. Courses that help students develop skills working with their hands also are valuable, because these technicians build what aerospace engineers design. In addition, technicians should have a basic understanding of computers and programs in order to model or simulate products.

Vocational–technical schools include postsecondary public institutions that emphasize training needed by local employers. Students who complete these programs typically receive a diploma or certificate. Community colleges offer programs similar to those in technical institutes but include more theory-based and liberal arts coursework and programs. Community colleges typically award an associate’s degree.

The Engineering Technology Accreditation Commission of ABET accredits programs that include at least college algebra, trigonometry, and basic science courses.

Many vocational and community college programs offer cooperative programs with work experience built into the curriculum.

Important Qualities

Communication skills. Aerospace engineering and operations technicians receive instructions from aerospace engineers. This means they must be able to understand and follow the instructions, as well as communicate any problems to their supervisors.

Critical-thinking skills. Aerospace engineering and operations technicians must be able to help aerospace engineers troubleshoot particular design issues. They must be able to help evaluate system capabilities, identify problems, formulate the right question, and then find the right answer.

Detail oriented. Aerospace engineering and operations technicians make and keep precise measurements needed by aerospace engineers. Consequently, they must make correct measurements and keep accurate records.

Interpersonal skills. Aerospace engineering and operations technicians must be able to take instructions and offer advice. The ability to work well with supervising engineers, other technicians, and mechanics is essential because technicians interact with people from other divisions, businesses, and governments.

Math skills. Aerospace engineering and operations technicians use the principles of mathematics for analysis, design, and troubleshooting tasks in their work.

Mechanical skills. Aerospace engineering and operations technicians must be able to assist aerospace engineers by building what the engineers design. Mechanical skills are needed to help with the processes and directions required to move from design to production.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

Though not required for the job, certification is offered by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Certification may be beneficial because it shows employers that a technician can carry out the theoretical designs of aerospace engineers.

Both companies and the FAA seek to ensure the highest standards for the safety of the aircraft SpaceTEC coordinates a nation-wide program through community and technical colleges to help students prepare for certification.

Pay

The median annual wage for aerospace engineering and operations technicians was $61,530 in May 2012. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $40,020, and the top 10 percent earned more than $87,370.

In May 2012, the median annual wage for aerospace engineering and operations technicians in the top five industries in which these technicians worked were as follows:

Scheduled air transportation $67,870
Aerospace product and parts manufacturing 66,380
Navigational, measuring, electromedical, and
control instruments manufacturing
59,960
Architectural, engineering, and related services 56,330
Communications equipment manufacturing 55,870

Aerospace engineering and operations technicians have opportunities for employment throughout the private sector, with large and small manufacturing organizations, as well as with engineering services firms. Schedules worked tend to parallel those of the engineering and operations staff members.

Job Outlook

Employment of aerospace engineering and operations technicians is projected to show little or no change from 2012 to 2022. Aerospace engineering and operations technicians work on many projects related to national defense and therefore require security clearances. This restriction will help to keep jobs in the United States. In addition, aircraft are being redesigned to cut down on noise pollution and to raise fuel efficiency, increasing demand for research and development particularly in support of air transportation.

Aerospace engineering and operations technicians work mainly in national defense–related projects or in designing civilian aircraft. Research and development projects, ranging from more efficient propulsion systems to new air transport concepts, will create demand for these workers.

Those who work on engines or propulsion will be increasingly needed as design and production emphasis shifts to rebuilding existing aircraft so that they give off less noise while using less fuel. Domestically, as space flight shifts to the civilian market from government agencies, there will be a move toward hiring by emerging civilian space companies.

However, aerospace engineering and operations technicians also are working to improve productivity through the use of automation and robotics, and the increased productivity will likely reduce low-end production employment in this occupation. Another factor that may slow growth in the occupation is the continuing adoption of computational fluid dynamics (CFD) software. This technology has lowered testing costs and has replaced more traditional testing. As a result, these technicians will see a shift toward more high-end technology tasks.

Job Prospects

Job openings should be available for aerospace engineering and operations technicians. These workers usually retire at a younger age than aerospace engineers, and indications are that the proportion of those eligible to retire will be rising substantially over the next few years.

For More Information

For more information about accredited programs, visit

ABET

For more information about careers in engineering, visit

Technology Student Association

For more information about certification, visit

SpaceTEC

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, 2014–2015 Occupational Outlook Handbook, http://www.bls.gov/ooh.

Average Yearly Pay

$58,080

Holland Code

Building
Thinking
Organizing

Job Growth

-2%

Similar Jobs

Share your thoughts