An aerospace engineer works in the design, testing and construction of spacecraft, airplanes and weapon systems, including missiles. The working conditions for an aerospace engineer can vary from a normal office building to testing sites where working prototypes of aircraft and weapon systems are unveiled for the first time. This field is highly competitive, with each engineer constantly working to develop better and more effective flight and communication systems to win large contracts for employers.
An aerospace engineer spends the majority of her working day in a laboratory setting, testing materials for use in projects ranging from military grade weapons to metals used in aircraft construction. Laboratory tests may include determining the stress levels of certain building materials for use in aircraft or spacecraft construction as well as evaluating the adaptability of metals and plastics for use in communication systems and instrumentation. This data is essential when the price tag of the product -- including a commercial airplane or space shuttle -- is regularly in the millions of dollars.
A working prototype designed by an aerospace engineer usually requires field testing to generate usable data to determine the prototype's effectiveness in real world conditions. The engineer may act in a supervisory capacity by overseeing a team of technicians performing the field testing, or she may conduct the testing personally. Field tests are performed in a variety of environments, from airbases to closed race tracks and even the middle of the desert. Tests of military grade weapons are generally conducted away from large population centers to minimize the risk of injury due to system malfunctions.
The Work Week
An aerospace engineer usually works a standard 40-hour work week, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Project deadlines -- especially high valued military or government space contracts -- may increase the number of hours an engineer must work each week. The stress level of the job also rises as a project deadline nears. An engineer must learn to balance the growing stress of solving design problems, ensuring that all safety protocols are met and creating a finished product that performs within its advertised parameters.
Travel may be an integral part of an aerospace engineer's working conditions when the engineer lacks a home office and instead travels to each job site to tackle a specific problem. This could mean the engineer works in a different industrial plant or laboratory from week to week, encountering different working conditions at each stop. An engineer may require specific equipment to be present at each new job site to ensure that he has the necessary tools to perform diagnostic assessments of the problem, design a potential solution and test the solution for effectiveness.
2016 Salary Information for Nuclear Engineers
Nuclear engineers earned a median annual salary of $102,220 in 2016, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. On the low end, nuclear engineers earned a 25th percentile salary of $82,770, meaning 75 percent earned more than this amount. The 75th percentile salary is $124,420, meaning 25 percent earn more. In 2016, 17,700 people were employed in the U.S. as nuclear engineers.