Aero-nautics vs Astro-nautics

Technology is advancing so rapidly that mechanical and electronical branches have several specializations. At present, even those specializations are further categorized into smaller categories. One such example is of Cranfield University, UK. They are offering a degree called ‘MSc Computational Fluid Dynamics’. Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) is a skill or a method that was common and it is still common among mechanical engineers. However, the new master’s degree offered by Cranfield will impart in-depth knowledge on this subject which will produce engineers who have limited but focused skill set in the field of CFD. To understand where these specialists fit, I will list job roles in hierarchical order working in a professional environment:

  1. Mechanical Engineer
  2. Fluid Dynamic Specialist
  3. CFD Specialist

In case CFD specialist was related to aerospace sciences:

  1. Mechanical Engineer
  2. Aeronautical Engineer
  3. Aerodynamicist
  4. CFD Specialist

So, from the examples above, we can understand that these specialists are in third and fourth tiers. Such categorization and focused education may lead to misunderstanding someone’s occupation or skill set. For instance, we may think aeronautical, aerospace and aircraft maintenance are different names for the same occupation. However, we may be very wrong because all three belong to different industry type.

The Aircraft Maintenance Engineers (AME) are not Aeronautical, Aerospace or Astronautical Engineers. They are skilled and experienced in repairing and servicing the aircrafts. As they develop their skills and experience, they can apply for licenses to become Licensed Aircraft Maintenance Engineer (LAME). They usually work for airlines or aircraft servicing contractors i.e. Qantas, Emirates, Lufthansa, etc. They can specialise in either mechanical or electronical branch, both have different license types.

Even though AME/LAME have the word engineer attached to it, they are part of the mechanics/technician group which involves repairing, servicing and working with aircrafts (hands-on). I will distinguish between mechanic and engineer in the next week’s post.

As for engineering side, there are various beliefs, however my opinion is:

Generally, the study of aircrafts, whether in space or on earth, are referred to as aerospace sciences or aerospace engineering. Aerospace engineering is further divided into three major groups:

  1. Aeronautical Engineering – field of engineering that deals with aircrafts that operate within the Earth’s atmosphere and all related matters
  2. Astronautical Engineering – field of engineering that deals with aircrafts that operate outside the Earth’s atmosphere and all related matters
  3. Avionics Engineering – field of engineering that that deals with aircraft electronics and it applies to both branches of aerospace sciences

Field of astronautics is found in companies where space activities are conducted such as NASA, EASA, SpaceX, SUPARCO, etc. They deal with rockets, satellites, space shuttles, space rovers, etc.

Whereas the field of aeronautics is found in companies that manufacture aircrafts such as Boeing, Airbus, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, etc. They deal with design and manufacturing of commercial aircrafts, fighter jets, UAVs/drones, etc.

Avionics, on the other hand, is found in both industries. They deal with electronic design, control, aircraft health systems and more.

The knowledge base of all three groups overlap, for instance, avionics students learn a bit about structures and thermodynamics, whereas aeronautical students learn a bit about electronics. However, it doesn’t mean they do the same job.


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