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Thursday, June 23, 2011

Career in Aerospace Engineering - SCIENCE IN THE SKIES



   “Washington, February 2, 2003: US space shuttle Columbia disintegrated shortly before landing on Saturday morning, killing the seven crew members on board, including Indian-American Kalpana Chawla,” – headlines that made it to newspapers all over the world breaking the hearts of millions. But, the tragedy failed to deter thousands of young Indians for whom Kalpana was already a role-model. Space, including the moon and the stars, fascinate many in their childhood, many dream of going to the moon someday, however most of these dreams get grounded as reality strikes. But, Kalpana knew how to turn dreams into reality. She took up aerospace engineering as her area of academic expertise. 

   Aerospace engineering (AE) is one of the most exciting and consistently dynamic technical fields today. It took mere 35 years to graduate from powered flights of 1903, to large scale air transportation industry (with the DC-3) and another 20 years to launch the first artificial earth satellite. Today, long-range commercial aircrafts can reach any point in the world and military aviation has become the dominant force on the modern battlefield. In fact, permanent habitats on the moon, intelligent unmanned airborne military systems, manned exploration of the planets, hypersonic transports are considered as reachable goals today. However, all these will depend on two basic factors: advances in technology and the availability of highly trained engineers.
   “The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) is very active and India ranks among the top three countries in terms of spending a considerable percentage of its GDP on space research. Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd, our indigenous manufacturer of aircraft and spacecraft is extremely active in developing new age equipment. Although this industry has not yet been thrown open for foreign direct investments, it may only be a matter of time and of resolving issues of internal security, before many global companies play a role in India’s foray into space research,” says Shekhar Niyogi, education and career consultant.


AE is a field of study that encompasses aeronautics and space science. With the boom in the aviation industry there are immense opportunities for aerospace/aeronautical engineers. The airline industry is always looking for new aircrafts that are bigger, better, economical and environment friendly. The increasing efforts and resources being invested in space research in India and other countries ensures that employment potential is always increasing. “Technologies in the fields of aeronautics, space and missile are converging. This would lead to cost-effective, high-quality design, development and production of the various types of aerospace systems such as the 150-seater passenger jet, supersonic unmanned combat aircraft, hypersonic reusable missile, hyper-plane and planetary missions, including manned missions for energy and water,” opined former President APJ Abdul Kalam at the 2008 Air Chief Marshal L M Katre Memorial Lecture in Bangalore.
   Considered the undisputed father of India’s missile programme, Kalam has the credit of bringing to life ballistic missiles like the Agni and Prithvi. Kalam completed his DMIT (Diploma in MIT) in Aeronautical Engineering from the Department of Aerospace Engineering in 1957.
   “Today, in India, most jobs are in the field of management and analysis. In the last couple of years, three or four major airlines companies have entered the Indian market. Hence, there is a huge job prospect in the field of civil aviation, especially the maintenance section,” informs Hemendra Arya, professor, department of aerospace engineering, Indian Institute of Technology-Bombay (IIT-B).


AE is an applied discipline of engineering which deals with the design, manufacture, functioning and maintenance of aircrafts, spacecrafts, helicopters and missiles. The core areas of specialisation for a team of aeronautical engineers include aerodynamics, thermodynamics, celestial mechanics, control systems, propulsion and electronics.

   Aerospace engineers can work in areas like design, development and maintenance in the field of aviation, space exploration and defence systems. Most of the jobs available are with airlines like Air India, Indian Airlines, Helicopter Corporation of India and flying clubs, private airlines and government owned air service Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL), National Aeronautical Lab (NAL), Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) and Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO). “Apart from conventional jobs, other related jobs include R&D, design, testing, manufacturing and management,” says Swati Salunkhe, career counsellor.


Apart from the IITs, there are various private colleges that offer courses in this field. Madras University, Punjab University and Anna University offer undergraduate courses in AE. Admissions to these BTech programmes are made through a Joint Entrance Examination (JEE) conducted on an all-India level. “Labs play a very important role in the undergraduate level. Check the standard of the lab before zeroing down on the college,” advises Gopalan Jagadeesh, associate professor, AE department, Indian Institute of Science (IISC). Madras Institute of Technology (MIT), Chennai has the laboratory support from the Defence Research and Development Organisation, NAL and ISRO while the IITs also have some of the best laboratories. One can also do a graduation in any of the streams of engineering and then switch to AE at the Master’s level. However Jagadeesh adds, “Out of civil, mechanical, electrical, computer, electronics, chemical, and other branches, mechanical engineering is the best choice if you want to take up AE at the Master’s level.” For the degree courses students are usually admitted through the GATE. IISC offers two kinds of opportunities for higher studies to graduates. “Apart from the MTech course, we offer a course called MSc in Engineering by Research. This has more research and less coursework. The MTech has 25 seats for general students while for the research based course, a maximum of 10-15 students are admitted and distributed to work under the 35 faculty members,” informs Jagadeesh. The courses offered for MTech are aerodynamics, propulsion, structures and guidance and control. IIT, Bombay also offers courses in aerospace engineering. “We have three levels here. For BTech (40 seats) students are taken through JEE, for MTech (35 seats), it is GATE and we also offer PHD (4 - 5 students each year) courses,” informs Arya. Many foreign universities like Arizona State University, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, Michigan State University, Illinois Institute of Technology, University of Texas, Arlington, etc, also offer courses in aerospace engineering. “At the undergraduate level students need the SAT and TOEFL for admissions to US universities offering this course. And at the graduate level, students need the GRE and the TOEFL. The tuition fee is around $30,000 per year,” says Karan Gupta, foreign education counsellor. However, for brighter career prospects, a PhD is a must. Some of the areas of research include aerodynamics, theoretical and experimental fluid mechanics, applied aerodynamics, hypersonic and high enthalpy flows, computational fluid dynamics, flight mechanics of aircraft and helicopters, guidance and control, dynamics and control of aerospace vehicles, orbital mechanics, space robotics, guidance, avionics, radar and electromagnetic systems, parallel/distributed processing and applications, genetic algorithms and neural networks for aerospace systems, optimisation and estimation techniques in aerospace systems, and propulsion.


AE offers job prospects in India and abroad. In fact, many companies recruit directly from campus. The salary depends on academic excellence and the skill set of individuals. Salaries in government or public sectors such as HAL, NAL start at around Rs 8,000 to Rs 10,000 per-month (excluding allowances), while in private sectors it is decided by the management and usually ranges between Rs 8,000 to Rs 15,000 per-month (excluding allowances). Engineering graduates with management degrees get a starting salary of Rs 10,000 to Rs 40,000 per-month plus perks. A job with NASA can fetch a starting salary of $1,00,000 to $ 1,50,000 for a beginner with the right credentials.


• Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay

• Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur

• Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur

• Indian Institute of Technology, Chennai

• Madras Institute of Technology, Chennai

• Indian Institute of Aeronautical Engineering, Dehradun

• Indian Institute of Aeronautics, Patna

• National Institute of Aeronautical Engineering, Dehradun

• Punjab Engineering College, Chandigarh

• Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore



  1. Thanks For Sharing Such a usefull information. Aerospace engineering is working in areas like design, development and maintenance in the field of aviation, space exploration and defence systems.

  2. I have been visiting various blogs for aerospace career. I have found your blog to be quite useful. Keep updating your blog with valuable information... Regards

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