Aeronautical and Aerospace Engineer

Aeronautical engineering can be regarded as another branch of mechanical engineering in aviation, dealing with internal combustion engines, fuel, air-conditioning and heating, strength of materials and hydraulics. 

Aeronautical engineers design, plan, develop, manufacture and test aircraft, missiles, satellites and other relevant aeronautical products and systems. They usually work as part of a team with each team member representing a different area of specialisation.

Aeronautical engineers may specialise in one of the following fields:

Structural analysis: the analysis of static and dynamic loads of the airframe and the choice of construction materials and production methods to be used.

Aerodynamics: the study of airflow over an aircraft to determine its configuration, stability, control and performance and power requirements. This is often done with the aid of scale models, which are tested in a wind tunnel.

Propulsion: this involves flow mechanics, thermo-dynamics, gas dynamics and strength of materials. It entails the choice of appropriate vehicle engines. Engineers in this field of study occupy themselves with the design, development, production, assembly and testing of aircraft engines that must meet certain power and performance requirements.

Systems: this involves the definition, simulation, integration and evaluation of all subsystems of an aircraft / missile to ensure that the system meets all requirements and functions well. A systems engineer or project manager is responsible for integrating all of these fields.

Manufacture and production: this field involves ensuring that the product is of a high quality, with the application of rigid standards and stringent control throughout the production process.

Avionics: this field involves aspects such as flight instrumentation, radar, computers, navigation equipment, communication systems and sensors (height and speed).

Servo- and power-systems: the use of hydraulic and electrical systems for the stability and control of aircraft and missiles.

Certification: this involves systematic flight tests to prove that an aircraft is airworthy and performs as required.

Aerospace engineers design and develop aircraft, spacecraft, missiles, aerospace systems and components, and develop and conduct tests and computer simulations of aerospace vehicles, systems and components, as well as prepare specifications for materials and processes to be used in aerospace manufacturing, maintenance, repair or modification. They also supervise and coordinate the manufacturing, assembly modification, repair and overhaul of aircraft and spacecraft. They coordinate ground and flight tests of air and spacecraft, and they develop operational specifications, maintenance schedules and manuals for operators.

They develop the technical phases of logistical and operational support for aerospace vehicles and systems, investigate and report on structural or other component or system failures, accidents or incidents and prepare recommendations for corrective action.

These engineers generally work indoors in offices or research laboratories. The actual work setting depends on the type, size, location and financial resources of the employer and the skill, experience and area of specialisation of the engineer.

Engineering graduates usually begin work under the supervision of experienced engineers and are gradually given more responsibilities as they gain experience. Some engineers with experience and additional education move into administration or management. Many high-level executives in industry began their careers in engineering.

For aeronautical engineering technologists and technicians, see Engineering Technologists and Technicians.

Personal Requirements

  • be curious and creative
  • have above-average ability in Mathematics and Physical Science
  • have good communication skills - verbal and written
  • have the ability to work well with others and have leadership qualities
  • be responsible
  • be a perfectionist - errors can easily result in the loss of human lives

How to Enter

Schooling & School Subjects

Compulsory Subjects: Mathematics, Physical Science 
Recommended subjects: Engineering and Graphic Design 

What to Study

Degree: Universities offering BSc (Eng) with aeronautical subjects - e.g. Wits.

The University of Pretoria offers a BSc degree with aeronautical subjects at undergraduate level. At the University of the Witwatersrand, students can follow a four-year course in Mechanical Engineering, specialising in Aeronautics.

A person who has obtained a recognised BSc (Eng) or BEng degree is eligible for registration as an Engineer in Training. After gaining at least 3 years of appropriate practical experience, an aeronautical engineer may register as a Professional Engineer under the auspices of the ECSA.


  • industries related to the aviation, aeronautical and aerospace fields
  • Department of Transport - Civil Aviation Division
  • commercial and private airlines
  • Denel Aviation
  • South African Airways
  • South African Air and Defence Forces
  • large organisation, eg. Armscor, Kentron, CSIR
  • self-employment - a qualified aeronautical or aerospace engineer, with the necessary experience can work as a consultant.

Further Information

Aeronautical Society of South Africa
The Director
P O Box 14717
Sinoville, 0129
Tel: (012) 641-1197

South African Civil Aviation Authority (SACAA)
Ikhaya Lokundiza
Building 16, Treur Close
Waterfall Park, Midrand
Tel: (011) 545-1000

Engineering Council of South Africa (ECSA)

1st Floor, Waterview Corner Building
2 Ernest Oppenheimer Avenue
Bruma Lake Office Park, Bruma
Johannesburg, 2198
Tel: (011) 607-9500

Aerospace Industry Education & Training Board

SA Air Force
Private Bag X199
Pretoria, 0001
Tel: (012) 312-2911

South African National Defence Force (SANDF) Media Liaison Officer
Department of Defence Information Centre
Private Bag X161
Pretoria, 0001
Tel: (012) 355-6372/3

Getting Started

  • join an aviation or science club
  • try to talk to engineers and scientists in the aeronautical field and aviation industry

Programmes by Study Institutions

Related Occupations

Study Aeronautical Engineering at Wits

How to register as a Professional Engineer with ECSA

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