Aerospace Engineering and Operations Technician

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Aerospace Engineering and Operations Technician

Education and Training: High school plus two years of training

Salary: Median—$52,250 per year

Employment Outlook: Good

Definition and Nature of the Work

The aerospace industry is based on aeronautics, the science of flight, and on astronautics, the science of space travel. Both aircraft and spacecraft are produced in this industry. Aerospace engineering and operations technicians construct, test, and maintain aircraft and space vehicles. They may work on rockets, missiles, helicopters, and airplanes. They may adjust test equipment for accuracy and determine causes of equipment malfunctions. Using computer and communications systems, aerospace engineering and operations technicians often record and interpret test data. Technicians in the aerospace industry may work on many kinds of projects.

Most aerospace engineering and operations technicians work for companies that build aircraft and space vehicles. These companies have contracts to build this equipment for private airlines or the federal government. Some aerospace engineering and operations technicians work for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), universities, or research institutes. Although much of this industry is located on the West Coast, some companies in the aerospace industry are located in the South or along the East Coast.

Due to the complexity of the aerospace industry, there is great variety in the type of work available for technicians. Many technicians specialize in certain kinds of equipment, such as air intake valves for jet engines. Some spend several years working on small, one-of-a-kind parts used in spaceships. Others specialize in certain kinds of systems, such as hydraulic, electrical, or mechanical systems. They may also work with aircraft instruments, sheet metal, or landing gear.

No matter what kind of equipment they work on, aerospace engineering and operations technicians generally work as part of a team under the direction of scientists or engineers. Technicians perform much of the routine work, allowing the scientists and engineers to focus on tasks that make use of their more advanced training.

Aerospace engineering and operations technicians work in all phases of their industry including research and development, production, and sales. Some technicians prepare precise drawings or scale models. Others work with special instruments to take measurements, collect information, or perform laboratory tests. They may write reports, make cost estimates, or prepare plans for the manufacture of equipment. Some aerospace engineering and operations technicians work as field representatives. They offer assistance and advice to their company's customers, such as NASA or the armed services. Other technicians work as technical writers, preparing information for instruction manuals or catalogs.

Education and Training Requirements

There are several ways to train to become an aerospace engineering and operations technician. In high school you should take as many math and science classes as possible. You can then attend a college or technical school and take a two-year program in engineering or aerospace technology. Some schools have work-study programs in which you attend classes while working in the industry. Some companies in the aerospace industry offer on-the-job training programs. Apprenticeship programs, such as those given in drafting and electronics, may lead to a technician's job. Graduates of technical schools run by the armed services may also be able to find jobs as aerospace engineering and operations technicians. In addition, there are home-study courses that can qualify you for a job as a technician in the aerospace industry. Technicians may have to pass a security clearance before they can work on defense projects.

Getting the Job

Private companies often recruit technicians through placement offices at colleges and technical institutes. These companies may also send notices of job openings to separation centers at military bases. You can apply directly to companies or research centers in the aerospace industry. You can also contact NASA for information about applying for a civil service job. In addition, job openings may be listed in newspaper classifieds and job banks on the Internet.

Advancement Possibilities and Employment Outlook

Aerospace engineering and operations technicians usually advance to higher-paying positions as they gain experience. Sometimes they become supervisors of other technicians or workers. Experienced technicians can also become sales or technical representatives for their companies. Technicians who continue their education can become engineers. Some technicians become teachers in technical schools. Others become technical writers.

Overall employment of engineering technicians is expected to increase about as fast as the average for all occupations through 2014. The field depends to a large extent on levels of government spending for defense and space programs, and changes in government spending priorities can quickly alter the employment picture. Jobs in this area are similarly sensitive to the economy. Research and development funds tend to decline during recessions, reducing job opportunities.

Working Conditions

Aerospace engineering and operations technicians usually work in modern, well-equipped plants, laboratories, or offices. At times they must work in small spaces, such as the inside sections of space vehicles. Production lines or testing centers can be very noisy. Workers are given ear protectors if the noise level is dangerous. Aerospace engineering and operations technicians sometimes work nights and weekends, but thirty-five- to forty-hour weeks are standard. At times technicians must work longer hours to complete a project on time. When their projects are completed, aerospace engineering and operations technicians must find other jobs. They may have to move to a new area to find a job requiring their special skills.

Aerospace engineering and operations technicians generally work as part of a team that includes scientists, engineers, and technologists. They must be able to work well with others. They should also have an aptitude for science and mathematics and be able to concentrate on the details of their work. Technicians need to be responsible people who can work well with their hands. Some aerospace engineering and operations technicians belong to unions.

Where to Go for More Information

American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics
1801 Alexander Bell Dr., Ste. 500
Reston, VA 20191-4344
(800) 639-2422

American Society for Engineering Education
1818 N St. NW, Ste. 600
Washington, DC 20036-2479
(202) 331-3500

Earnings and Benefits

Earnings depend on the education and experience of the aerospace technician, the location, and the kind of job. Salaries are generally higher than those received by other kinds of science and engineering technicians. In 2004 the average annual salary for aerospace engineering and operations technicians in the aerospace products and parts manufacturing industry was $52,250. Benefits include paid holidays and vacations, health insurance, and pension plans.