SPACE TO SOAR
Kalpana Chawla touched starry heights in this field. Now, a boy from Ballia (UP) has been propelled out of anonymity after being selected to study at NASA. Aeronautical and aerospace engineering is a career option where you can truly fly high, writes Usha Albuquerque
HAVE you not dreamt about becoming one of those magnificent men (or women) in a flying machine, or racing through space in the latest version of Enterprise? Air travel has fascinated man through the ages. Piloting a plane, riding on one or even watching the steel birds soar through the skies is a thrill for most of us. The aeroplane has not only captured our imagination but also revolutionised modern transportation. Airbus Industries has just launched a plane that can carry up to 800 passengers.
The buzz around air travel has made aeronautical engineering an extremely challenging and greatly appealing career---such is the fascination of being behind the building, maintenance, controlling and the functioning of these marvelous flying machines. Also, since Kalpana Chawla left her imprint on the starry firmament, hundreds of young hopefuls are looking to follow her trail ---through a career in astronomy and NASA.
Aeronautical engineers are responsible for the maintenance, servicing, examination and functioning of the engines and other outer paraphernalia of aircraft and of the electronic equipment and instruments in the cockpit. They work as part of a very organised and efficient team of engineers and technicians who maintain aircraft and ensure a high level of technical precision. They also maintain and overhaul aircraft in hangers and workshops when an aircraft is due for its regular inspection, and carry out routine maintenance on the ground. For maintenance during turnarounds, aeronautical engineers often work at great speed and under immense pressure. Aeronautical engineers also handle the replacement and overhauling of the safety equipment of the plane and its parts.
While the proper functioning of the systems during flight is the responsibility of flight engineers, aeronautical engineers respond to reports from air crew of any difficulties experienced during flights, repairing and making corrections. Due to the high sophistication in modern aviation, the need for flight engineers on a flight is rarely felt. The pilot, co-pilot and the cockpit assistants perform the flight engineer's job during the flight. Nevertheless, flight engineers do have their share of work to do before and after the flight.
While the main thrust of aeronautical engineering lies in the design, development, maintenance and teaching of aeronautics, aircraft engineers in civil aviation normally specialise in aeronautical mechanical or electronic engineering. Aeronautical engineers are also involved in other non-conventional fields such as air turbine production plants or design development programmes for the aviation industry. Aeronautical engineers can also join the Navy or Air Force for operating and maintaining sophisticated aircraft, aero-engine and armament equipment in use by the services. The Air Force recruits aeronautical engineers as Flight Test Engineers to conduct test flights. Here, they are required to complete the flight measurement operation with desired precaution and follow it up with analysis and interpretation
Aerospace engineering is another challenging field for engineers of this discipline. The design and manufacture of aircraft and spacecraft for commercial or military use is a highly technical field and requires highly trained engineers, scientists and technicians specialising in areas such as aerospace, aeronautics, electronics, computer science, robotics, meteorology, chemistry and physics.
Aerospace engineers may be required to work on the designing of complete aircraft or may specialise in areas such as missile guidance systems, propulsion, and guidance control systems.
Aerospace engineering is still in its nascent stage in India, but its growth and development in the West has drawn many talented engineers like Kalpana Chawla. Around 30-40 per cent of the technicians and aerospace engineers working at NASA are from India.
If you are one of those drawn to the challenges of space, you need to take up
aeronautical engineering after plus two (PCM) or it can be pursued at the postgraduate level, after a degree in mechanical engineering or electronics. One can also opt for a diploma in Aircraft Maintenance Engineering, and work as a technician. Diploma holders can also acquire degrees on clearing the exams of the Aeronautical Society of India.
Several engineering colleges offer aeronautical engineering---the Indian Institute of Technology in Chennai, Mumbai, Kanpur and Kharagpur and also the Punjab Engineering College, Chandigarh ( Kalpana Chawla's alma mater). Admission is through the Joint Entrance Examn (JEE) conducted in January and May every year along with the entrance for other streams. Punjab Engineering College too conducts an entrance test for students of plus two with PCM.
To encourage the students, the Union Ministry of Defence, provides the Aeronautics Research and Development Board (AR&DB) scholarships to top seven Aeronautical Engineering students of Punjab Engineering College in the first year based on (CET) merit, which entitles them to a stipend of Rs. 1000 per month along with other allowances and an assured job with organisations like the DRDO, Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), National Aerospace Laboratory (NAL) and ISRO.
Moreover, the curriculum includes a compulsory industrial training of five weeks after third year in various organisations like the Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA), Aeronautical Development Establishment (ADE), NAL, HAL, Indian Airlines etc.
Some institutes also offer M.Tech and Ph.D programmes. The Madras Institute of Technology offers a three-year graduate programme in Aeronautical Engineering for B.Sc students, subject to their having passed Maths and Physics at the graduation stage. The Indian Institute of Science (IIS), Bangalore, has M.Tech and Ph.D programmes in aeronautics.
Aeronautical engineering can also be studied through correspondence with the Aeronautical Society of India. The Associate Membership of this society has been recognised by the Ministry of Education, on par with a bachelor's degree in aeronautical engineering from an Indian university.
Students who have passed plus two with physics and maths can also enrol for a 3-year course, equivalent to an aeronautical engineering course with the AMAESI (Associate Membership of Aeronautical Society of India)
If you are looking for a career in aerospace you can complete a degree in aeronautical engineering, or in any of the disciplines required for this field. In addition to aeronautical engineering, space agencies like ISRO and NASA look for candidates from a variety of disciplines, such as industrial engineering, biomedical engineering, metallurgy, optical engineering, oceanography, materials engineering and ceramic engineering. Aerospace engineers can also choose to specialise in these areas at a masters or Ph.D level before being taken in by NASA or any other space agency.
Airline companies such as Air-India, Indian Airlines, Jet Airways, Sahara, Pawan Hans, Helicopter Corporation of India and flying clubs, private airlines and government-owned air services take on aeronautical engineers. Besides airlines, they can also get jobs in organisations such as HAL which designs and builds aircraft for defence purposes, research and development organisations such as Defence Research and Development Laboratories, NAL, Aeronautical Development Establishment and the Civil Aviation Department, also take on trained engineers.
Diploma holders can work as aeronautical or aerospace technicians with airlines to supervise maintenance of aircraft and help in the installation of new equipment. Depending on the area of specialization, technicians are also involved in research, development and design work, in installing and maintaining radar and radio equipment, and in the development and assembly of electronic and electromechanical systems.
Aeronautics and aerospace require people of high intelligence. They should have a consistently good academic performance in mathematics and physics and show proficiency in mechanical drawing and computers. All engineers in this field must be highly responsible, for they have to assure the safety of the aircraft. They must be scientifically and technically inclined and should have manual and mechanical aptitude, they must work briskly, yet with flawless precision. They should have a sharp eye sight, normal colour vision, good physical stamina and be able to spend long hours in high concentrated work.
Aeronautics and aerospace are exciting new fields offering challenging careers for motivated high achievers. If you have what it takes, you too can take wing and fly!