I'm doing Aerospace Engineering in school, for the last two years of a four year degree, and hopefully for a 12-16 month co-op term between third and fourth year. For the uninitiated, that's more or less your clichÃ© "rocket science." But, let us be clear, I probably won't work for NASA, and I'm not going to be an astronaut in the conventional sense.
Although there are many fascinating things happening on the "-space" side of aerospace engineering (development of the CEV and a possible Sino-European shuttle, probe robotics, etc.) I'm more interested in the "aero-" bits. Here's why:
First, I still have this irrational fear of stuffy academia. While many people I know have found things that fascinate them enough to commit themselves to postgrad/research, I still haven't found any focus of aerospace that I'd be willing to spend the rest of my life seeking grant money to work on.
Second, I'm pretty sure the US is going to tank at somepoint. Things are just going to go straight to hell in all kinds of ways. I'd like to be in the country or paid through their military spending when that happens, as aeronautics projects tend to be expensive and first on the chopping block.
On the other hand I don't have much of an interest in working for Boeing, Airbus, Bombardier or similar. Unless things go in a new and exciting direction, the A380 and 7E7 will be the flagship products for the next 10-15 years. Development an investment is so massive in the airliner industry that one could - I imagine - spend one's entire career developing, building and doing lifecycle engineering on a single aircraft or family. The prospect of exterting myself to the utmost for percentage improvements in cost, weight and efficiency isn't enough to excite me, no matter how revolutionary the materials or processes involved are.
I love airplanes. I've loved flying so long I joined Air Cadets to get my glider and private pilot licenses. What I'd really like to do is work on a number of smaller, advanced projects. I don't feel a need to use or discover the absolute newest and most advanced materials or techniques, but I'd like to engineer short-run or one-off aircraft that do revolutionary things. Whether I get to fly or ride in them or not is a side issue - I can always fly small planes, which is fun aplenty.
If I can get this sort of job, I'll be doing something challenging and fun - what more does one need?
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