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The Aerospace Industry

At the end of this block of study, you should be able to:

6.6 identify the goals of the aerospace Industry.
6.7 Name goods manufactured by the aerospace industry.
6.8 identify the geographic area where most aerospace employees work.
6.9 State the agency that received the largest budget for research and development.
6.10 Name the military branch that received the most appropriation for research and development.
6.11 Differentiate between the function of an aerospace prime contractor and that of an aerospace subcontractor.
6.12 Define the role of aircraft manufacturing workers.

One of the country's largest employers is the aerospace industry. It represents a huge and unprecedented cooperative effort between government and private industry. Some of the goals of the aerospace industry are exploring the possibilities of life in outer space and solving the problems of life in an advanced technological society on this planet. It is the Nation's leading exporter of manufactured goods and embraces more than one-fifth of the Nation's scientists and engineers.

Although the aerospace industry produces all the Nation's private and commercial airplanes, helicopters, and many other commercial products, more than 75 percent of its products and services are sold to the government. The aerospace industry is involved in everything that flies in the air or that orbits the Earth. The advanced technology developed by people is used to advance the space effort. You can easily imagine the changes that must be made in a spacecraft to make it suitable for operation in the thin atmosphere of Mars.

It was predicted that most airplanes entering service in the 1990s would be refined derivatives of aircraft introduced during the 1980s. They would include jumbo jets with larger seating capacities and with quieter and more powerful engines. The two-engine A-320 jet, built by the European consortium Airbus Industrie, is considered the latest new-generation, high-technology air transport and was regarded as a solid competitor to manufacturers in the United States.

Douglas Aircraft Company, a subsidiary of McDonnell Douglas Corporation, completed flight tests of an MD-80 air transport equipped with an ultrahigh-bypass (UHB) propfan engine manufactured by General Electric. It is believed that the twin-row, multiblade prop engine was 25 percent more fuel-efficient than the most efficient aircraft engine now in operation. McDonnell Douglas plans to make similar flight tests with a second UHB engine built jointly by General Motors and United Technologies. The company is predicting possible fuel savings of about 45 percent, along with much lower noise levels for both UHB engine versions. Either one could be used on two upcoming derivatives of the MD-80—the MD-91 and MD-92. More than 900 orders and options have been received for the MD-92.

The excitement in aerospace is within your grasp if you have the right education. With adequate career counseling, you can prepare for a career in this industry. The competition is keen, but for the well-prepared, there is always an opening (see figure 6-2). It is the world of the skilled technologist, whether this be secretaries with their shorthand and technical-jargon word list or the plant manager of A giant rocket engine company. The aerospace industry is an industry that rewards its employees well for the skills they develop.

It is almost impossible to get A good Job in the aerospace industry unless you possess a high school diploma. The aerospace industry wants employees that have confidence In their ability to do a job. Therefore, a degree demonstrates that the employee had the determination to stick to a hard job through its completion and has a certain ability to get along with others.

In 1990, almost I 1/2 million people were working on aerospace products. More than half (53 percent) of these employees were manufacturing aircraft, engines, and parts. The remaining 47 percent were producing missiles or space systems or were engaged in aerospace research and development.

Aerospace plants range in size from large factories of major manufacturers, each with tens of thousands of employees, to shops of small subcontractors and suppliers with only a few workers each. Jobs in aerospace work may be found in practically every state, although roughly one-third are concentrated in California.

Aerospace personnel usually are paid somewhat higher than the national average for comparable work in other fields. In 1987, the average hourly earnings for production workers were $3.37 compared to an increase of $13.81 for 1988.

The majority (41.7 percent) of aerospace employees worked in the Pacific region. A distant second place was the New England region with 14.3 percent. The West North Central region placed third with 11.1 percent. Next, in order, were Middle Atlantic (7.6 percent); South Atlantic and South Central (both 7.3 percent); East North Central (5.6 percent); and the Mountain area (5.1 percent).

The aerospace industry headed the list in 1989 for industrial research and development. The Department of Defense (DOD) received the largest allocation for government-funded research and development. Federal outlays for DOD amounted to $37.3 billion, up from $35.4 billion in Fiscal Year 1988. Within DOD, the Air Force continues to lead the other services in terms of appropriations for research, development, and test and evaluation.

There are large Industrial laboratories, equipped with the very latest test apparatus, that employ groups of scientists and technicians to solve problems In unison. A typical product designed for the government or for commercial use Is the result of the cooperative effort of many companies. Some of the more complex products have been assembled from parts supplied by several thousand firms. Prime contractors normally build the major elements of the product in their own plants. They subcontract to other firms for the many parts and systems that are needed. Subcontractors may supply an item as small as a bolt or as large as a turbojet engine. Prime contractors are corporations that take on the total responsibility for a given project. Subcontractors are assigned by the prime contractor for a certain portion of the project. Thousands confer on total systems for a spacecraft such as Titan, for Instance. Nothing Is left to chance. While the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Is the guiding agency, thousands of privately owned and publicly owned corporations have contributed to the total space effort. Space Industries, near Houston, Texas, is designing the space station's free-flying platform using only 35 people. At ARINC Research Corporation In Colorado Springs, Colorado, It takes just a few hundred employees to design satellite tracking stations and ground control systems.

The companies whose names are synonymous with big-time space are General Dynamics, Hughes, Lockheed, McDonnell Douglas, Boeing, Martin Marietta, IBM, and Rockwell. Arianespace which builds and markets the Ariane launch vehicle, is the major non-U.S. player. Rockwell hires more electrical engineers, mechanical engineers, and computer specialists than aerospace engineers. Materials scientists, civil engineers, and chemical engineers also are in demand. General Dynamics Space Systems Division and other aerospace companies follow a similar hiring pattern. They also seek safety engineers, manufacturing engineers, test and evaluation engineers, and quality control engineers. You don't need a technical degree to work in the aerospace field. Some positions, In fact, don't require a degree at ail, At the Space Systems Division of Boeing Aerospace & Electronics Company, engineers and technicians are only one-third of the work force. The remaining two-thirds are nontechnical support personnel. For companies specializing in design, the percentage is slightly higher For production companies that turn out pieces of hardware, the percentage of technical types may be as low as 10 to 15 percent.

The nonengineering staff of a typical space company is composed of 10 to 20 percent professional employees, such as managers, salespeople, and contract administrators. Technical, nonprofessional employees, such as mechanics, electricians, and drafters, account for another 5 to 10 percent. Usually, at least half of an aerospace employer's work force is nom technical, nonprofessional staffers—personnel specialists, engineering records employees, secretaries, and assembly workers.

Some of the other aerospace companies are Pratt & Whitney, Hamilton Standard, Sikorsky Aircraft, Norden Division, Vector, North American Aviation, inc., Rocketdyne Division, Atomics International Division, Martin Company, Aerojet-General, United Technology, Ralph M Parsons Company, and Northrop Corporation.

While the need for employees may fluctuate from one company to another, there is room in the aerospace industry for many more good technicians, well-trained office workers, creative engineers and scientists. The skills of the young are in demand in very increasing numbers. It isn't likely that the demand will lessen in the foreseeable future because these companies will be alert to every opportunity to Improve their aerospace skills as they continue the great race to conquer space.


If you think you would be interested in a career in aerospace, check your potential for success by answering these questions:

Do you enjoy math and science?
Do you have an inquisitive and searching mind?
Are you interested in knowing what makes things work?
Do you like to solve problems and puzzles?
Do you like to create things?
Do you enjoy learning?
Do you enjoy working with computers?
Do you like to build things?
Are you prepared to study hard and do homework?
Do you achieve good grades?

If you answered yes to most of the questions, you may want to consider an aerospace career.




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Updated: March 12, 2004