Propulsion engineers work to improve the performance of jet engines, rocket motors, compressors, combustion engines, turbines and other equipment. In terms of salaries, propulsion engineers tend to be grouped together with other aerospace engineers. The Bureau of Labor Statistics lists the median annual wage for aerospace engineers at $103,720 in its May 2012 wage survey.
The BLS reports that annual salaries for aerospace engineers ranged from $65,450 or less for the lowest 10 percent of earners to $149,120 or more for the highest 10 percent. The middle 50% earned between $81,890 and $127,570 a year. The employment website, Simply Hired, lists the average aerospace propulsion engineer salary as $79,000 as of January 2014. This comparatively low figure suggests that propulsion engineers typically earn less than other types of aerospace engineers. Variations in survey methods and sample sizes might also account for part of the difference.
Most propulsion engineers have a Bachelor of Science in Aerospace, which takes four years to earn. To gain an edge in the marketplace, many also have a Master's degree in Aerospace or Master of Engineering. The Master of Engineering focuses on the application of technology and design, while a Master of Aerospace focuses on research. Both degrees add an extra year to the time spent in school but can be essential since some companies will only hire those with a master's degree from a major college or university. An advanced degree can also translate into a higher starting salary.
Where to Work
California employs the greatest number of aerospace engineers, with 20,770 as of May 2012. The mean annual salary there was $112,200. Washington was next in employment with 8,020 aerospace engineers earning an annual mean salary of $102,240. Texas employed 7,280 people in the occupation and paid an average of $105,020, while Virginia employed 4,160 aerospace engineers and paid an average of $124,760. Among the states and District of Columbia, the top annual mean salaries for this field were in Virginia at $124,760, D.C. at $121,560, Idaho at $115,170, New Jersey at $115,020 and Alabama at $114,590.
Consulting the Crystal Ball
Because of cutbacks to defense and space spending budgets, there have been many layoffs in the industry. The BLS expects employment of all aerospace engineers to increase 5 percent from 2010 to 2020, slower than the 14 percent average for all occupations. However, the BLS notes that aerospace engineers who work on engines or propulsion will be needed amid a trend to rebuild existing aircraft so they make less noise and use less fuel. In addition, propulsion engineering overlaps with other engineering fields, making it easy for a propulsion engineer to find work in chemical, electrical, industrial and mechanical engineering
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