Aerospace engineering and operations technicians operate and maintain equipment used in developing, testing, producing, and sustaining new aircraft and spacecraft.

Increasingly, they are required to program and run computer simulations tools and processes in their work. They are also expected to work in advanced automation and robotics.

Their work is critical in preventing the failure of key parts of new aircraft, spacecraft, and missiles.

They also help in the quality assurance, testing, and operation of advanced technology equipment used in producing aircraft and the systems that go into the aircraft.

What Aerospace Engineering and Operations Technicians Do

  • 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 and manufacturing 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.

Some aerospace engineering and operations technicians are beginning to specialize in three-dimensional printing, or additive manufacturing.

Employers

Aerospace engineering and operations technicians held about 10,500 jobs in 2018.

The largest employers of aerospace engineering and operations technicians were as follows:

Aerospace product and
parts manufacturing
35%
Engineering services18%
Computer and electronic
product manufacturing
13%
Scientific research and
development services
10%
Testing laboratories4%

Aerospace engineering and operations technicians work in manufacturing or industrial plants, laboratories, and offices.

Those who work in manufacturing or industrial plants are frequently directly involved in assembling aircraft, missiles, and spacecraft.

Many are exposed to hazards from equipment or from toxic materials, but incidents are rare as long as proper procedures are followed.

Work Schedules

Aerospace engineering and operations technicians are employed 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 other engineering and operations staff members, and most work full time.

Many employers prefer to hire aerospace engineering and operations technicians who have earned an associate’s degree in engineering technology or who have completed vocational-technical education in computer programming or robotics, and machining.

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 collaboratively with machines also are valuable, because these technicians build what aerospace engineers design.

In addition, technicians should have a basic understanding of computers and software in order to model or simulate products.

Aerospace engineering and operations technicians typically need to earn an associate’s degree or a certificate from a community college or vocational–technical school. 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, but some offer a certificate. Vocational–technical schools include postsecondary institutions that emphasize training needed by local employers.

Students who complete these programs typically receive a diploma or certificate, but some vocational–technical schools offer an associate’s degree as well.

Some vocational schools and community colleges offer cooperative programs with work experience built into the curriculum.

Important Qualities

Communication skills. Aerospace engineering and operations technicians receive instructions from aerospace engineers.

Therefore, they must be able to understand and follow those 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.

In addition, they keep accurate records of these measurements.

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 measurement, 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

Although 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.

Private companies and the FAA both seek to ensure the highest standards for the safety of aircraft.

SpaceTEC, the National Science Foundation’s Center for Aerospace Technical Education, coordinates a nationwide program through community and technical colleges to help students prepare for certification.

Salary

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 $42,610, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $100,310.

In May 2018, the median annual wages for aerospace engineering and operations technicians in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Testing laboratories$71,880
Engineering services69,690
Computer and electronic product manufacturing67,680
Aerospace product and parts manufacturing66,800
Scientific research and development services61,800

Aerospace engineering and operations technicians are employed 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 other engineering and operations staff members, and most work full time.

Average Job Growth

Employment of aerospace engineering and operations technicians is projected to grow 4 percent from 2018 to 2028, about as fast as the average for all occupations.

Many aerospace engineering and operations technicians work on projects related to national defense and therefore require security clearances.

In addition, aircraft may be redesigned to cut down on noise pollution and to raise fuel efficiency.

Need for such redesigns should raise 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 constructing civilian aircraft.

These technicians also are employed in the rising market for unmanned aerial systems.

Successful research and development projects, ranging from more efficient propulsion systems to new air transport concepts, will result in new product lines and 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 produce less noise while using less fuel.

Opportunities for employment with civilian space companies should increase as spaceflight shifts to the civilian market from government agencies.

In addition, aerospace engineering and operations technicians will be needed due to rising demand to manufacture small satellites known as cubesats or smallsats, which are used for many purposes, such as communications or gathering data.

However, aerospace engineering and operations technicians also are working to improve productivity through the use of automation and robotics, and the increased productivity likely may 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 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.

For more information about careers in engineering, visit

Technology Student Association

For more information about certification, visit

Federal Aviation Administration

SpaceTEC