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Why learn to design aircraft ?

Why learn to design aircraft ?

(OP)
Hello all

My question is,

Why do universities invest so much time in teaching aerospace students how to design aircraft from scratch when it is extremely unlikely that they will ever land such a role in industry ?

Myself, I have studied aircraft conceptual design at both masters degree level and PhD level and I can reassure anybody out there that even with these qualifications, it is very highly unlikely that they would be working in such a role in industry. Instead of spending the last 6 years learning how to design aircraft, I am starting to think that my time would have been better spent chasing 'big foot'. I am desperate to land a role in a conceptual design department and to put into practice what I have learnt but am now worried that I am going to have to retrain in order to find work.

So, why do some universities still base their courses around aircraft conceptual design when there is no jobs in this area ?. Why not base the courses around component design and then only teach conceptual design as a specalised course within companies ?.

Thanks

 

RE: Why learn to design aircraft ?

Probably because as with most engineering education the emphasis tends to be on breadth over depth.

It's probably thought that if you're taught the fundamentals - mechanics of flight, structures... within the context of whole aircraft design, and have 'learned how to learn' then when you actually come to spend your career doing the stress analysis of doublers, or aerodynamic analysis of the same doublers... that you'll be able to take the basic concepts you've learned and apply them.

Conceptual design is the arguably the most glamorous (maybe a slight exaggeration) aspect of aircraft design.  Everyone wants to be Burt Rutan, RJ Mitchel, Kelly Johnson...

However, if you look at biographies of a lot of the greats, they worked there way up from lower positions.  

So you may have to do the same, Rutan started out as a flight test engineer if memory serves.

Even with your PHD I'd guess finding an entry level Conceptual Design position will be tricky.  

I'd have thought you'd want your conceptual design guy to have some practical experience, the type even the best universities usually struggle to impart.

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What is Engineering anyway: FAQ1088-1484: In layman terms, what is "engineering"?

RE: Why learn to design aircraft ?

Why did you spend so much time having fun at uni rather than working in the real world?

Do you really think the average Dean at a uni gives a monkey's whether there are jobs in a given speciality? he gets paid for you attending classes, not for you getting a job.

 

Cheers

Greg Locock


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RE: Why learn to design aircraft ?

For that matter, didn't you look at the job prospects before you took on your added degrees?  

Seems to not speak well of your engineering analysis abilities if you didn't bother to do a risk/reward analysis on spending 6 yrs of your life on something that wouldn't produce a return.

However, this is probably the best time since the early 20th century for aircraft designers to actually get to do an aircraft design.  Natch, I'm not talking about 787s and the like, but smaller guys, i.e., UAVs.  There are more UAVs flying and being designed now than ever before, and of all kinds, from standard fixed wing to rotor wing and ducted fan to flapping wing.  I think that if you get your head out of the clouds for a second, you'll see gobs of opportunities in that field, given that just about every country on Earth wants to have their own UAV, and since the entry costs are low, the possibilities are all out there.

TTFN

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RE: Why learn to design aircraft ?

During your 6 years did you at no point do some kind of industry placement, or at least work in a design project with folks from industry or something?

Don't even just limit yourself to big ticket A/C and the UAV's that IR stuff mentions.

Think about target drones, air launched weapons, R/C aircraft, Home Builds/Ultra lights...

My first job in aerospace was come at by getting a directory of aerospace companies and submitting my resume to every one that was even remotely relevant to my end goals of designing aircraft.

Do you have a portfolio of concepts you've come up with that you could present?

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RE: Why learn to design aircraft ?

Good point, and from what I've seen the barriers to entry are essentially zero (I've seen remotely piloted a/c on youtube totally home built).

Incidentally I occasionally get involved in concept design for cars, and their major subsystems and architectures, and have done since I was 28. But I was usually the youngest there, for 5 years. Concept design is far more about politics and reality than equations.

 

Cheers

Greg Locock


New here? Try reading these, they might help FAQ731-376: Eng-Tips.com Forum Policies  http://eng-tips.com/market.cfm?

RE: Why learn to design aircraft ?

(OP)
Thanks for your thoughts, there was some interesting comments. I will deffinatly have a look at UAV's and drones.

When we all start out on our chosen career it is impossible to predict in what shape that industry will be in when we finish. Who could have predicted the global recession ?

I did get some industry experience with a large aerospace company and worked as a designer on a big research project. The company has however hit financial difficulty and are making people redundant so there is no chance of continuing with them.

If nothing else then I hope that my experience will help somebody else be more realistic about their career moves. Your chances of becoming a football star are probably greater than becoming a conceptual designer and we know where that dream leads for most people.

RE: Why learn to design aircraft ?

Ady, you're in GB right?  Would I be right in thinking you did your post grad at Cranfield?

Where have you applied?

Don't just apply to BAE Systems & Airbus etc.

After graduating I got a copy of the 'Society of British Aerospace Companies' directory and went through it applying to every company I could find that designed anything vaguely relevant, down to things like reconnaissance pods & aircraft stores etc.

The Aerospace/Defence industry is a bit incestuous, once you get in one place, you'll get to meet folks from others and may eventually be able to maneuver yourself into a role not too dissimilar from your dream job.

Consider not just the manufacturers but also the govt and quasi govt agencies.  MOD, DSTL, Qinetiq...

There are a bunch of small and medium companies you'll never have heard of in the main stream press.  EDO-MBM, Portsmouth Aviation are a couple that spring to mind.

Apply to some of the aircraft modification & maintenance places too, Marshals of Cambridge, ATC Lasham...

Farnborough airshow is going on right now isn't it, any way you can wangle your way into the industry day - it will give you a lot of ideas of places to apply.  If not the industry day even the public day has some advertising etc.

Good Luck, but bear in mind few of us start in our dream job, if we're lucky we start at the bottom and work our way up without getting side tracked.

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RE: Why learn to design aircraft ?

Even if you did sign on at Airbus, and spent the next 10 years designing/redesigning left aileron hinge pins...the benefit of your design training to the company is that they don't have to train you about what is important in the design of aileron hinge pins in regards to how it integrates to the rest of the airframe.  Aircraft are very complex, and every part affects the rest of the assembly to a degree not found in other machines.  Being able to talk the language and communicate with other engineers in other disciplines makes the job go along smoother.  At least that's the theory.

RE: Why learn to design aircraft ?

3
Before I'd let you design a whole airplane, I'd want some assurance that you could competently design any part of one.

Part of learning to design a part right is designing it wrong, several times, and learning why you were wrong.

That's why you start at the bottom.



 

Mike Halloran
Pembroke Pines, FL, USA

RE: Why learn to design aircraft ?

(OP)
Hi all

I appreciate that you need to start at the bottom and work up but am also affraid of starting off in component design, never progressing and ending up in the same role for the rest of my career. I could have just stopped at the masters degree if I wanted to go down that route. I guess I am trying to share my experience so that other peole don't make the same mistake as me.

One of my plans is to prove my comittment to the career and that I am not just in this for the money. I have thought about offering myself for a salary of half of that normally paid out to a graduate. I just need enough to keep a roof over my head and am looking for about £12-15k. Surely, that has got to be an attractive proposal to somebody out there. My view on life is that happiness is more important than money.

KENAT - you are right about me. Have we met, or do you know of me ?

 

RE: Why learn to design aircraft ?

The GB I worked out from info in your profile, the Cranfield I worked out as I looked at taking the course and it was the only place with that much aerospace vehicle design as I recall.

I'd be hesitant about offering yourself for that low as a permanent thing.  Offering to to an intern/job placement might have merit though.

I'm not going to sugar coat it, there's a good chance you will get stuck in component design or analysis, but it's not a sure fired thing.  Designing Airborne Weapons wasn't exactly my dream career when I took the job straight out of uni, but it turned out to be the best job I ever had and I wish I was still there.

I'd suggest getting your foot in the door, and maneuvering into your dream job as best you can from there.

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What is Engineering anyway: FAQ1088-1484: In layman terms, what is "engineering"?

RE: Why learn to design aircraft ?

The reason  got in early on concept design was not because I am especially good at detail design of components (in fact I have designed very few), but because the area I specialised in, more by luck than judgement, was one where early decisions about it are difficult to do without a good theoretical background, and have significant downstream implications. In cars it is called noise and vibration. So one thing might be to find a similar field in aero. I'm tempted to say that Systems Engineering offers the best chance of early envolvement in concept design.

  

Cheers

Greg Locock


New here? Try reading these, they might help FAQ731-376: Eng-Tips.com Forum Policies  http://eng-tips.com/market.cfm?

RE: Why learn to design aircraft ?

Maybe, that if you are to design, say, a horizontal stabilizer for an aircraft at your new job, you would have some concept of what that stabilizer's "job" is on a flying aircraft. What does it do?   

RE: Why learn to design aircraft ?

maybe you were learning "conceptual design" as it applies to aircraft.  as such the ideas can be applied to the design of anything.  maybe you like aircraft (don't we all, in this forum).

as many have said, there are many avenues to approach that will apply some of what you learnt.  but you're right, the chances of you designing a plane (unless it's your own) are just about nil.  Airplane Design is a massive team; the most you can hope for is to be involved in several projects and enjoy what you get to do.

your first big decision is do you want "conceptual design of sircraft" or "aircfrat design".  All aircraft manufacturers do conceptual design but the job market is tiny at the best of times (ie not now) ... right now the job market would be close to nil.  Working on airplanes on the other hand requires tons of people, even now there are job openings, and whilst it may not be exactly what you want to do, it can get you in the door, and get some experience.

your immediate next decision is "big company" or "small".  Big companies (Airbus, Boeing) do big projects, have really big teams (so you'll be a tiny cog in a big machine).  small companies (including drones and UAVs) do small projects with small teams and you'll be able to do more.

possibly we should have had this discussion some years back before you did your PhD.

Anyways, good luck with your future ... i've enjoyed the business and probably wouldn't have done things differently.

RE: Why learn to design aircraft ?

I know a guy who works in the Boeing Comm. Aircraft, stability and controls group.  Never met somebody so happy with his job; probably as close to a top level systems integration group as you'll get in a big company (they need to know everything about the plane to make it work right, from weights and moments to structural resonances to flutter speeds to landing gear ....)  He gets to go flying on big jets fairly often, to exotic locations (Iceland, Arizona...) and figure out on the fly (pun intended) why the plane he is riding and taking data from is suddenly not responding the way it should.  The thing about the landing gear is from when they were testing the first GPS landing system, and the plane kept zoom-climbing just before touchdown.  Apparently a gear-down sensor was showing an intermittent fault.

RE: Why learn to design aircraft ?

(OP)
Thanks guys, it is really good to get some thoughts from people who have been through the process.

I have got my heart set on working on conceptual design and from the discussions, I think the best way for me to get anywhere near this is on UAV projects in small companies. I just don't feel like I would be presented with the same oppertunities in a large company. If only we could go back in time to the second world war, I'm sure the oppertunities would be endless.

Thanks for all your thoughts

RE: Why learn to design aircraft ?

I think that you'd be disappointed in the opportunities in WWII.  While there were lots of companies, there still wasn't that many NEW planes being designed and built.  Most of the planes that flew during the war were at most modified during the war.

I still think that your opportunities have never been better than today.  Over 400 companies involved in UASs!!  Obviously, some are more accessible than others, but opportunities still abound... Carpe commodum!

TTFN

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RE: Why learn to design aircraft ?

Ah yes, the second world war.

If only we could go back to that time...

Happy days those were, happy days.

:)

RE: Why learn to design aircraft ?

Well, the few years immediately pre WWII wasn't too bad for aircraft designers (not necessarily the companies that relied on profits from actually building the A/C).

At least in the UK.

Several requirements issues by govt each year.  Bunch of proposals submitted for each one.  Several prototypes ordered for many of them...

This of course pails compared to the amount of designs during WW I.

Arguably, the current state of UAV is closer to the situation in WW I.  So, probably fertile territory.

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RE: Why learn to design aircraft ?

(OP)
Hi guys. Some interesting thoughts for me to consider.

I have had another thought. I am also considering the prospect of working in aicraft maintenance as I know that there is a shortage of licensed engineers. Before doing my degrees I worked as a car body repairer for a number of years so have got a fiar bit of hands-on experience.

I am just wondering if any of my degees or my practical background is transferable or if I would have to start from the bottom again.

Thanks

RE: Why learn to design aircraft ?

that'd pretty much cover the entire spectrum of the industry ... from conceptual design to in-service maintenance.

sorry but i doubt your PhD will help in getting a miantenance license.  and i think it might scare off potential employers  ... "over-qualified"

RE: Why learn to design aircraft ?

I think the reason to teach aircraft design is because it's the fun side of engineering.  You'll get a lot more students interested in aircraft design then in lug analysis and fastener selection engineering.  Who cares if only one tenth of one percent (.1%) become aircraft designers.  Aircraft design as a field gives the collage a venue to present all the teaching opportunities needed to provide the background to becomeing an engineer.  Actually being an engineer will take much more training after you get a job, and it will take a lot of that before someone is going to be doing aircraft design professionally.  I was thinking of doing some amature aircraft design myself, just because it's fun.

-Kirby

Kirby Wilkerson

Remember, first define the problem, then solve it.

RE: Why learn to design aircraft ?

Ady, a lot of the folks on this site, based on their posts, seem to spend much of their time developing/analyzing etc. modifications/repairs to aircraft.

So maybe that's something of interest of you.  Typically for an A/C repair, any changes from baseline design have to have some level of analysis and certification - much more so than in typical automotive applications.

This type of work would make more use of your education than being a grease monkey.

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RE: Why learn to design aircraft ?

I can amplify the comment from Kenat, I work on aircraft mods, and I do get to do design work.  It focuses me on specific components; wing tips, fuselage cut-outs, racks in the cabin, etc.  The experience designing parts that modify the wing is instructive about the design of the wing itself.  Then at other times, the effect of a mod on the aircraft as a whole must be checked - gross weight limitations, airspeed limitations, reductions in rate of climb, new emergency procedures, and so on.  These often involve getting a free ride in the co-pilot seat.  I've been in autorotative descents and attempted inductions of ground resonance in helicopters, and in fixed-wing aircraft power-on stalls and spiral dives (that last wasn't intentional, hehehe).

Perhaps a look at the things on my desk right at the moment is the most instructive.  A cracked skin doubler, a fiberglass wing rib, a cheapo LCD monitor mount, a coupon of carbon fiber, a stack of webbing D-rings, and the datasheet for an exploding bolt.  Each of these things contains either a problem to be solved or a solution to an aeronautical problem.  And I haven't disclosed the things that would reveal too much about current customers, either.

During my education, I was given several aerodynamics and systems courses.  Not enough to design the details, but a very good background so that I know where to start on a problem.  You just can't beat it when you enjoyed your schooling, then get a job that puts it all to use.

Now that you have a PhD, you can say you have studied a very pointy topic in great detail.  Now that you are considering the labour market, you should think about the things you know how to do more generally.  Subjects of study and projects beyond the PhD thesis that round you out.

You find work like this by getting in with the engineers who consult for operators of small airlines, survey ships, overhaul shops, and government work (such as fire-fighting and mapping).  The operators of the aircrarft don't want to hire university engineers themselves (unless you're handy with a solder iron) but they do need aeronautical engineers that can keep the regulators happy from time to time.  That's when they need the consultants.

My (indirect) knowledge about UAV's is that the designers involved have less experience with human-carrying aircraft and more with model aircraft.  Leads to the kinds of mistakes that typically come up with people learning "all over again" what's been known for a century.  The more successful UAV manufacturers probably avoided this problem but there are some cottage industry UAV companies around here that are in the "hobby" boat.  Choose carefully.

Good luck!

Steven Fahey, CET

RE: Why learn to design aircraft ?

i'd've thought that you'd've needed a license to be an AME, i guess you could work of a company as a mechanic, and not sign anything off ... sounds like too much hassle for the company.

since we're considering short-term work, till you get a "real job" ... what about working at a uni, as a TA or something, so long as you don't have to commit yourself for a long term ??

RE: Why learn to design aircraft ?

"I am also considering the prospect of working in aircraft maintenance as I know that there is a shortage of licensed engineers"

Keep in mind there is NOT a shortage of third world repair stations, and that's where much of the real work goes these days.

Frankly, (and this is someone who has been in the aircraft maintenance for 35 years)IMHO the Aviation Maintenance trade is a dying one. There will always be a need for certificated workers on the small aircraft, but the good paying jobs have been shipped to China.

 

RE: Why learn to design aircraft ?

One thing in your job hunt, is don't send your resume to HR. Find out who the manager is in the area you want to work, and send it to him and/or his boss.

Much better response rate.

Jim Brown, DER Structures
www.faader.us

RE: Why learn to design aircraft ?

(OP)
Thanks for the tip, much appreciated.

To be honest with you, I live very close to Rolls Royce in Derby but I will not apply to them anymore as I have had bad experiences with their HR department not reading the application forms properly.

RE: Why learn to design aircraft ?

(OP)
My experience of BAE Systems is that they are all over you and are promising you jobs when they want you to do some work for them. After you have finished, they act like they have never heard of you and certainly don't recall ever offering you a job. I do know of some decent guys there though who are always happy to exchange a e-mail.

RE: Why learn to design aircraft ?

You could ask this question about any university in any discipline.

Giving you an overview of what an airplane needs is, at least in my opinion, the right thing to do.

I don't agree with MikeHalloran that you should start at the bottom. Yes, when you start working you start at the bottom, but not with your design.

You have to know why you need certain parts before you make them, the design should be (again in my opinion) top down, never bottom up. Bottom up designing creates a monster of Frankenstein.

apart form thatm although I'm working in a commercial company myself, not everyone comes to the university to end in a commercial job. Some people prefer to work at research institutes and it's not upto the university to choose for you, they are only there to teach you and even if you don't want to do research, you'll always need the overview to know why you are working on a certain detail and with what goal in mind.  

RE: Why learn to design aircraft ?

Either extreme of top down or bottom up has issues.

You need enough top down so you know where you're heading.

However, at the end of the day aircraft (or most end items for that matter) are a bunch of sub systems and sub assemblies which forces some bottom up work.

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What is Engineering anyway: FAQ1088-1484: In layman terms, what is "engineering"?

RE: Why learn to design aircraft ?

A lot of people have designed airplanes. Look at General Aviation and the EAA. Ho about Burt Rutan, Bill Lear, Molt Taylor, Jim Bede, all the racing aircraft and homebuilt designers. If you have good ideas vision and drive you can make things happen.

You don't have to be another brick in the wall.

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