Advice on Engineering Degree

Discussion in 'Hangar Flying' started by Direct C51, Nov 9, 2017.

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  1. Nov 9, 2017 #1

    Direct C51

    Direct C51

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    There are a lot of engineers around here, and I'm hoping to call on the community to give a bit of advice.

    Now that I am done building my Sonex, I have time to make use of my GI Bill. I work as an EMS helicopter pilot, so my schedule allows for a lot of free time to get a degree online, but I would be unable to physically attend college. I don't really need a degree for the job I have, but any degree, regardless of what field, seems to stand out on resumes to just about every employer. Another reason I want to earn a degree is in the unfortunate case that I cannot maintain my flight physical, I would like a a degree to fall back on.

    I can get the obligatory Professional Aeronautics degree, which would be easy, and I could use my ratings and military schools to transfer as about half of the required credits. This would feel like putting all of my eggs in one basket.

    If I'm going to get a degree I may never use, I would like to spend the time doing something I enjoy. I know it would be hard work, but I think I would really enjoy the engineering classes, and it would be nice to understand what some of you guys are talking about sometimes. My hopes would be to use my GI Bill for a Bachelors in Engineering, then continue on to get a Masters in Aeronautical Engineering. Embry Riddle offers both degrees online.

    From those with experience in the field, would those degrees help in possibly designing my own airplane? I would love to design and build an F1 plane, or possibly a fast glass XC machine.

    A concern of mine is that if I ever do lose my medical it could be 10, 15, 20 years from now, and with no experience in the field, I may not be a very desirable employee. Any advice would be appreciated. Thanks.
     
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  2. Nov 9, 2017 #2

    DeepStall

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    When/if your career takes you outside the cockpit I'd expect you will have more luck building the next job off your flight experience vs. a dusty degree that hasn't been used. That said, an engineering degree or something else business/technical will look better on resumes than "underwater basketweaving," dusty or not. Don't get a junk degree for the sake of having "a degree." I agree with your worry that Prof Aero won't carry much value outside aviation ops.

    An engineering degree would help some with a homebuilt design, but many more people have created successful designs without one. Not sure what ERAU's curriculum is like -- my memories of coursework was 70-90% death by math, with the rest covering the actually useful/interesting/fun theory and applications. Mechanical or electrical engineering is generally more broadly employable than aero, so you might consider one of those instead of aero. You may or may not enjoy it, but if you can grind your way thru, the degree+your experience should be able to land you an interesting job at any aerospace firm you can think of. There are plenty of roles where a technical degree may be a pre-req, but once you're in, real-world experience and the ability to learn and solve technical problems that were never covered in school is really what counts.
     
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  3. Nov 9, 2017 #3

    TerryM76

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    From what I have heard from a few engineers in aviation is that a mechanical engineering or propulsion engineering degree would be most desirable. Embry Riddle programs require some classroom time at a campus from what I understand. My wife and I both have our MAS degrees through Embry Riddle and she is a former director for ERAU. If I was inclined toward a degree it would be in mechanical engineering......but that probably won't happen since I will be 60 in a few months.
     
  4. Nov 9, 2017 #4

    TFF

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    As someone who had the chance to get a degree and blew it off, I say get it.
    Using it to design it for your own plane, of course. I think though you might find you have to decide how deep you will want to be overwhelmed when designing your own aircraft. Definitive design might require 3-4 proof of concepts, ie you building multiple planes.
    As for using it as your day job, you might have to go the way of the independent. With your work as a EMS pilot, you could be doing part time work once you get the degree, so you could build up something that way. Working for an established is probably just as doable. I think though you have to remember, you will have to accept starting at the bottom of the ladder. Somewhat hard to swallow for 55 year old to be at a new job place reserved for 25 year olds. i have a friend who never could break into commercial flying so he is a very well payed A&P. He still wants to fly and comes to me and says stuff like, "Bob wants me to fly for him, all I need to make is $80,000 a year." i end up saying, "Its a $25 an hour job, there is no way Bob can stay in business at your price; he does not make that much himself." Understand that.
     
  5. Nov 9, 2017 #5

    Radicaldude1234

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    @OP

    Took somewhat of the opposite route you've taken: I got a Mechanical Engineering BS, was an engineer for a couple years, went AD on the O side, and am looking at an online degree in Astronautics with my AD GI Bill.

    It all depends on where your passions lie. If you're a typical EMS pilot, you're in a unique position where you can choose to pursue a second career without having financial concerns. And if you're set on an engineering degree, you will have to rely on that passion. There were classes, majority of which involved math, where I was forced to dig deep in order to pass.

    For schools, I'm not sure the online thing will work for engineering. It's different from something like a Humanities degree (I have one of those too) where you can read, understand, and do assignments on your own. Unless you understand math on an intuitive level, you will have to be in a classroom environment to interact with the instructor. I have personally never taken an engineering class via distance learning, so take what I say with a grain of salt. Hands on classes like engineering labs and machining you absolutely should be there for.

    Before making a commitment, my advice is to take some math classes at a nearby Junior College to gauge what you can handle. That and it's both cheaper and they usually grade easier at a CC.

    In terms of aircraft design, a Mech degree will only abstractly apply. You will have greater knowledge of structural design, but will have to study on your own for aerodynamics. It's not that hard to see mathematical patterns from other subjects in engineering though; math is math and you just have to stare at it for awhile. Aero will give you the, well, aerodynamic focus but will be light on the mechanical stuff.

    Job-wise, there's nothing more versatile than an ME. I have friends with ME degrees that are everything from utilities engineers to flight test engineers. I've been interviewed by most of the big aerospace companies, including the one that lands rockets. Right now there is a real demand for ME jobs, though it waxes and wanes with the economy. It's also the lowest paying of the engineering jobs, starting off at ~$60k and plateauing at about $120k. Electrical engineers are really in demand and start off ~$80k. With my friends as a reference, it's really difficult for the AeroE guys to find a job doing aero stuff.

    The key to finding a good engineering job is experience. My classmates who graduated and immediately got the best jobs all had 1-2 years of internships, often with larger companies. Even if you don't end up working for them a full fledged engineer, the reference on the resume opens doors. Barring that, involvement in engineering related clubs like SAE.

    Anyhow, apologies for the random bits of info, scatterbrained at the moment.
     
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  6. Nov 9, 2017 #6

    Highplains

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    Well to get an engineering degree is not for everybody. Calculus and physics eliminate most with that notion, but statics, dynamics, thermodynamics, circuit theory and a whole host of more focused classes mean that only about 2% of the general population will be able to make it through the required courses. There is a lot of overlap between mechanical and electrical degrees, but electrical is generally regarded to be more difficult. However if you are interested in aerodynamics, an ME degree can be biased toward aerodynamics. I worked with some ME's in the past that were little more than box designers with little to no skills, while at one company that made semiconductor capital equipment, the ME's were the majority of the engineering staff working in high vacuum equipment. There was a lot of crossover between the ME and EE doing the R&D.

    The degree doesn't really matter all that much, it just trains you to learn what you need to tackle any technical position. As they say, it takes roughly 5,000 hours to become an expert on any subject.
     
  7. Nov 9, 2017 #7

    skier

    skier

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    You seem to have a lot of questions but haven't really given us much to work with.

    I have degrees in both aeronautical engineering and mechanical engineering. Going to school for engineering (at least where I went primarily gives you a theoretical background. Some parts of that are useful for designing your own airplane, but the majority are not. On the other hand, it does teach you enough to start to understand how little you understand. Even if you do complete a degree in engineering fully designing an airplane is an enormous project and will take a lot of additional studying in subjects that were either glossed over or not covered at all.

    If you're not planning on working in engineering anytime soon, then you would probably be wasting your money. I don't think many companies would hire you 10 years after graduating with no experience in the field and that goes for any degree. I believe ERAU has a degree in something like aviation management which may give you something to fall back on in the future, if needed. Since you have been working in aviation the degree seem more applicable/relevant when you look for another job.

    When I interviewed at Scaled Composites they said they really liked hiring engineers that have built aircraft. I'm sure a lot of other companies would find that impressive as well. So you definitely have a leg-up there. Additionally, if you were to actually design, build, and fly an airplane between now and some theoretical point in the future where you can't pass your medical and need a job outside of aviation, that may be enough to get you hired somewhere. It also may convince them that your degree in engineering is relevant.
     
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  8. Nov 9, 2017 #8

    oriol

    oriol

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    Direct C51,

    Why don´t you try any of the multiple free online courses about physics or aerodynamics?
    If you register to the courses you can download the material. It would serve you to get a grasp of the subjects before getting comitted to a full Embry Riddle degree course.

    Anderson´s Aircraft Performance and Design book is quite affordable and enjoyable to read without a deep knowledge of sophisticated maths.

    I wish you the best to succeed if you decide to study an engineering degree!
    A proficient pilot/engineer/builder is not something very common.

    If not I hope you will have lots of fun studying just for the heck of it.


    Oriol
     
  9. Nov 9, 2017 #9

    Dana

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    To start with the only actual question in the original post, would an engineering degree help you to design your own plane? Absolutely. Is it sufficient (or even necessary)? No.

    I've always said I learned more about real world engineering in the basement of my parent's house building model airplanes, cars, boats, and other things, than I ever did in engineering school. But the piece of paper from the school is what got me my first job...

    A newly graduated engineer pretty much knows nothing about real world engineering, but has proved he's smart (and dedicated) enough to get through the demanding curriculum, meaning he should be able to learn the job. Five years in, the experience is far more important than the piece of paper. 15 or 20 or (in my case) 35 years later you will have forgotten 90% of what you learned in those engineering classes, because unless you're a senior aerodynamicist or structural analyst, you'll never use it. I doubt I could get through a first year calculus problem today, but the work experience carries me through. I can still do a basic beam bending equation but on the [very rare] occasion I need anything more complicated I look it up.

    Getting part time engineering work is unlikely without some years of solid experience in the field.

    If you're doing it for the satisfaction, then go for it... but as Radicaldude suggested, start with some math courses locally. Calculus is what causes 90% of dropouts from engineering school.

    As others said, there is lots of overlap between the different disciplines. Aero and Mechanical, particularly, the difference is only a few upper level classes, and the emphasis (example problems) in a few others. My degree is aero, my first job title was mechanical (designing aerospace ground support equipment), my second job (Sikorsky, doing the same thing) taught me that working in the big aerospace industry sucks, nowadays my specialty is industrial automation, and I wouldn't change a thing. And yeah, ME is probably the lowest paying engineering discipline, but it's arguably the most fun, at least for people who liked Erector sets and model airplanes as a kid.

    Some companies will hire people with engineering degrees for unrelated fields because if you can get through engineering school, you presumably know how to learn, think, and solve problems. My father had an EE degree, and got a job in the construction industry right out of school for a company that specifically looked for engineers to turn into businessmen.

    Of course there are other paths. My roommate and best friend in college had an AE degree and worked as a pilot (corporate first and then USAF when he got bored with ferrying rich guys around) and ended up as a commercial test pilot on the basis of the flight experience plus the engineering degree. Sadly, he was killed when the control system EEs made a mistake.

    Dana
     
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  10. Nov 9, 2017 #10

    wsimpso1

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    Direct C51,

    I am an ME, with both BSE(ME) and MSE(ME). I made my comfortable living for 37 years as an engineer, and retired (comfortably) at 59 from ME. In all that time, only for a few months was I ever unemployed and having any trouble finding a decent paying job. The only aero engineering coursework I ever took were classes cross listed in ME and AE, specifically composites and finite elements. And if you have been lurking on the airplane design and composites forums on HBA, you know I am building my own airplane design in composites.

    I know two guys with MSE's in AeroE who have have made careers in the topic, and these two are among the top in the industry. The rest of the AE I know are ALL doing some other form of engineering, and one is a Nurse. I know several Manufacturing Engineers in the automotive business who are degreed AE's and one flew F-14's for a dozen years first. There are way more degreed AE's than there are jobs in AE. There are lots of jobs for ME's, and you do not have to convince folks that your AE applies to ME jobs. Using the back up will be much easier with a BSME

    If I were contemplating engineering I would knock out the first class in each of Calculus, Linear Algebra (Matrix Algebra), Chemistry, and Physics. If you were to continue with an ME or AE, you will need those classes anyway, and you will find out if you can learn to think on the topics and do math to describe what it is doing. Do not concern yourself too much with how this relates to building stuff that works, it does fit in and you will need to already have it in your hip pocket to get through the engineering series. They can be a struggle, but if you get through them, you can do the rest of the program. Get an ME degree and you can work at a good paying job as long as you want and are able to.

    As to designing your own airplane, UGH! BIG JOB, really drags out the construction. Find a design that suits your mission and and has you building in materials you like working in, then build it to plans, and use the engineering degree to appreciate the art of how good a job the designer did of coming up with that airplane. There are airplanes from very slow to very fast in sheet metal, rag-and-tube, and even plywood, and composites in scratch built to kits at the higher speed end of the scale. I should have just built a Cozy MKIV...

    Billski
     
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  11. Nov 9, 2017 #11

    BJC

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    My two cents worth, based on my experience. (Bachelor of Aerospace Engineering, registered Professional Engineer in ME and EE, lots of original design and construction, engineering management, electric utility power plant management and corporate management, hired scores of new and experienced engineers, as well as craft, clerical and business employees.)

    The value of an engineering degree from a college with an ABET Accreditation is that the graduate has demonstrated reasonable intelligence, skills in mathematics and physics, the ability to learn without a teacher, and, most importantly, the tenacity necessary to complete a major challenge. Even then, there is a huge difference in the skills of engineers from different schools.

    People who say that they work as engineers but have not used what they learned in college may have responsible, rewarding, well-paying jobs, but they are not engineering jobs.

    As a hiring manager, I would not interview an applicant with an engineering degree for an engineering job unless he had current engineering experience. I would eagerly interview a former professional pilot with a rusty engineering degree for many other jobs.

    Many higher paying engineering jobs in industry, but not all, require professional registration. That requires at least four years of relevant experience plus an eight hour exam in the fundamentals and another eight hour exam in a practice area. (One engineer that I could not hire because of my employer’s PE requirement is now the VP of Engineering for a major corporation.)

    Almost any degree in any science will help open doors for interviews, regardless of currency. Any post high school education is a positive when looking for a job, but may not be as important as current, relevant experience.

    An engineering degree will be easier to get the sooner you start. If you are interested, try it, you may like it, and may decide to change careers when you graduate. If not, it will help open doors for interviews later, but probably not for an engineering job.

    A degree in aerospace engineering does not, alone, prepare one to design an airplane, but it could be a great start. I don’t know of any successful airplane designer who did it without help, and for small, traditional homebuilt airplanes, hands-on building experience may be more important than engineering experience, as long as the designer recognizes what he doesn’t know.

    None of this is intended to convey an elitist attitude about engineering; it is intended to provide a candid and complete response to your questions, based on my experience.

    Good luck with whatever you decide to do.


    BJC
     
  12. Nov 9, 2017 #12

    Chris In Marshfield

    Chris In Marshfield

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    Well, you didn't just set the bar very high, did you! Impressive creds, Mr. C. :)

    Glad to have you as a long-time contributor, and a pleasure to know you!
     
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  13. Nov 9, 2017 #13

    Cy V

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  14. Nov 9, 2017 #14

    BJC

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    I was very hesitant to post that, but I felt it was relevant to qualify what, in my experience, the value of an engineering degree is.

    One of the reasons that I hang out here at HBA.com is the diversity of experience and knowledge here: accomplished designers, expert fabricators, manufacturers, engine and propeller experts, military and commercial pilots, machinists, materials experts, race pilots, hang glider pilots, bush flying pilots, and more. I consider my personal expertise to be that I can BS with ease.


    BJC
     
  15. Nov 9, 2017 #15

    skier

    skier

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    Interesting perspective. In the companies I have worked in (and I thought throughout those industries), the PE license is essentially meaningless. From what I have seen and heard from friends, family, and coworkers the only place it is used and valued is in the building and construction industry. The school I went to actively encouraged civil engineering students to take the FE (fundamentals of engineering) exam, but nobody else. People at that school actually found it odd that someone in mechanical/aero/electrical/anything other than civil would take it.

    It would be interesting to hear about other people's experiences in other industries with the PE license.
     
  16. Nov 9, 2017 #16

    Chris In Marshfield

    Chris In Marshfield

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    Absolutely valid. You have life experience, which certainly adds to this conversation. Just yankin' your chain, there, buddy. :)

    I'm in the same boat as you, DC. I've considered the ME route a few times. I have one kiddo who's about to start university (why did he pick a private school again?), and another a few years behind him. For now, I'm going to have to live vicariously through y'all, and self study when it's convenient. I will personally never recoup a $100K investment (if that cheap) in an engineering degree in my life or through a career change. If you're young enough, you can pull it off, I imagine.
     
  17. Nov 9, 2017 #17

    BJC

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    The cost of college has gone up dramatically since I was in school, due, primarily, to government sponsorship of student loans. With the help of a scholarship and very frugal living, it cost me almost exactly $5,000 to get my sheepskin. Of course, that was way back in the last century.


    GTAE70
     
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  18. Nov 9, 2017 #18

    Direct C51

    Direct C51

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    Thank you everyone for the words of advice. I did leave my first post a bit vague, I didn't want to be too wordy and no one read it, and not too specific so that I could get a broad idea of the degree.

    I'll try to fill in some of the questions you guys have asked. Since I will be using my GI bill for the undergrad degree, it will be completely free. My company offers a modest tuition reimbursement that I would use for the follow on Masters if I went that direction.

    I suppose the perfect degree would be something that interests me, is challenging enough to keep me engaged but not overly intense, and could be used 15 years later with no experience, or used in a part time side job while I fly. I completely understand that a degree without experience is not very useful. The aviation management degree would probably best suit me in the case I lose my medical, but that sounds like a dreadfully boring degree, and a job I would never want.

    Embry Riddle does offer a fully online BS Engineering and MS Aeronautical Engineering. Like I said, I wish I could attend at least some classes physically, but my work schedule would not permit that. I'm not set on Embry Riddle, I'll check out UND as well.

    Oriol, thank you for that idea. I think those online classes might scratch the itch and allow me to take the Engineering and physics classes I want without having to take all of the required additional classes for a degree.

    I might rethink my degree plans. I've always wanted to be an Aeronautical Engineer but changed paths when the Army dangled that carrot (flying helicopters nearly right out of HS) in front of me. However, killing myself for 4 years working and getting an engineering degree that will probably not be useful for me might not be a wise choice.
     
  19. Nov 9, 2017 #19

    Highplains

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    What nobody told you, is that being an engineer is solving other people's problems.
     
  20. Nov 9, 2017 #20

    Chris In Marshfield

    Chris In Marshfield

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    Your GI Bill benefits are way better than mine ever were coming out of the Navy in the mid 90s. A whopping $14,400 for me. Yeehaw! If I had that benefit, I can certainly see where I'd want to take the path you're pondering. How long is your benefit good? I had ten years to use mine (which I didn't, sadly).
     

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