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RESEARCH ASSESSMENT #1 

 
DATE: ​September 7, 2018 
 
SUBJECT: A ​ erospace Engineering 
 
CITATION: 
 
Abrams, Michael. “Top 5 Aerospace Trends of Now and Future” The American 
Society of Mechanical Engineers, Mar. 2013. 
https://www.asme.org/engineering-topics/articles/aerospace-defense/top-
5-aerospace-trends-now-future 
 
ANALYSIS:  
 
My career forecast on aerospace engineering revealed that there are numerous 

ways to approach the field. To begin with, aerospace itself can be broken up into 

two distinctions: aeronautical and astronautical engineering. But within these 

two distinctions, similarities lie among the types of structures engineered. This 

becomes structural engineering, however. When we think about aerospace 

engineering, we think about structures like airplanes and spacecraft. When we 

think about the future of aerospace engineering, we think about advanced 

structures that enables more efficiency and discovery. However, Michael Abrams 

article over the future of aerospace shifts the importance placed on structures in 

the industry to the actual software that allows structures to perform more 

efficiently and therefore be used to make more discoveries. The future, he claims, 
will be about how airborne software can be developed in order to advance the 

industry. 

His article hints at the increasing demand for software engineers in the field. To 

me, that could mean that I will explore this side of aerospace engineering. 

Software engineering can be applied to the development of air/spacecraft 

control, communication, and data collecting systems. Although I will most likely 

be behind a computer for the development of systems like these, I will also still 

have to sit through classes of fluid dynamics, thermodynamics, and structural 

engineering. An engineer working on an aircraft needs to know how it operates 

regardless of what part of the aircraft they will be working on. Michael Abrams 

calls this “knowing every aspect of the hardware”. Even though he highlights 

importance on the software side of aerospace, Abrams concludes that without 

hardware or knowledge of, complications will rise in the software developed.  

An assumption I’d held when I’d done my career forecast was that an electrical 

engineer could get into the aerospace industry in order to work on a particular 

aspect of the craft without much knowledge on aerospace systems itself. Now, I 

know that even though you could only graduate with a degree for engineering of 

another kind than aerospace, you will still have to develop understanding on 
how airborn craft operate in order to successfully be a part of an aerospace 

project. I believe that I’m less likely to choose another form of engineering to 

major in in college. However, if I were to go into mechanical engineering, I know 

now that I should devote some time outside of classes to aerospace-related 

projects at my university or around the area in order to gain exposure to the field. 

This way, I can be more successful if I choose to get into the aerospace industry.  

After reading this article, I’m more prompted to explore the role of software in 

aerospace engineering. I wish to implement what I learn about this side of the 

industry into my final product for this ISM year. I believe that reflecting the 50/50 

importance between hardware and software in my product will not only more 

accurately represent the industry that I want to get involved into, but also give 

me more insight into what I may want to eventually pursue in the broad field that 

is aerospace engineering.   

   
Top 5 Aerospace Trends of Now and the Future 

by Michael Abrams, ASME.org 

Flying cars, hybrid vehicles, massive jets, sleek new fighters, and Mars-bound 
rockets. These are the kinds of things we consider when we think of our latest 
heights in the endless evolution of human flight: hardware. Indeed, the old cliché 
about there being a million parts in an airplane is truer now than ever. But those 
million parts are only a fraction of the story behind what puts any vehicle in the 
air—and what keeps it there. 
 
“Take a look at the cost of a Boeing 787,” says Vigor Yang, chair of the School of 
Aerospace Engineering at Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta. “Fifty percent 
goes to hardware, fifty percent goes to navigation, guidance, and control. And of 
that, fifty percent goes to software.” 
 
The newest flying machines are only the most visible part of what goes on in the 
air. How the systems on a v ​ ehicle control​ that vehicle; how a ​vehicle talks​ to 
ground control; how a vehicle talks to other vehicles; how ​vehicles collect data 
and what they do with that data—this is the silent face of aerospace 
engineering. It’s not tactile, it’s not photogenic, and it’s largely unsung. But it’s 
where the latest advances are taking place. 

1. System Software on the Rise 


The code at the heart of any aircraft isn’t something that can be slapped 
together by the latest Silicon Valley wiz kid. Unlike the programming that makes 
our apps and video games, airborne software is system dependent. Whoever’s 
writing the code has got to know every aspect of the hardware. And the 
software must be bug free. “Otherwise everyone will be in serious trouble,” says 
Yang. Software is handling ever-greater percentages of the jobs done on an 
aircraft. And, more and more, these systems are developed and put in place by 
companies such as Ultra-Electronics, Rockwell Collins, and Ramco Aviation. 
Increased c​ ommunication with ground control​ will soon allow for more efficient 
landings. Currently planes approaching an airport do so in a stair-step process. 
This allows the control tower to maintain safety at each stage. But when the 
exact position of each plane is known, the approach can be continuous. The 
smoothness of the descent will mean every flight will be shorter by two or so 
minutes and save about 100 gallons of gas. That time may be minuscule for the 
passenger, perhaps, but worldwide, the savings are enormous. 

2. Craft-to-Craft Communication 
How a message gets from the cockpit to the landing gear, rudder, or anywhere 
else, is a relatively self-contained problem, not too different from the controls 
found in land-based vehicles. But how vehicles talk to each other is another 
issue. In a video that went viral, researchers at the University of Pennsylvania 
orchestrated miniature quadrotors to play the James Bond theme. The bots knew 
each other’s location, and avoided collision, thanks to a central system that 
plotted their locations in space. The U.S. Air Force recently released a video 
showing how tiny drones will soon be able to similarly swarm together for the 
purposes of surveillance, targeting, and assassination. Boeing is at work creating 
a swarming system for larger drones. Eventually the ​technology will work its 
way into passenger planes​. 

3. Data Handling 
Surveillance vehicles get a lot of attention for political, military, and techie 
reasons. But in the field of aerospace engineering their development and 
employment is a much smaller challenge than that of what to do with their 
product. How does the vast quantity of data collected from each vehicle get 
integrated with that from other vehicles and satellites? How does it get sifted in 
a way that will make it useful? How will it be streamlined and delivered to allow 
for effective decision-making? The answer is likely to be found with the $200 
million the government recently marked for “big data” handling. Some of that will 
go into DARPA’s XDATA program, which aims to “meet challenges presented 
by this volume of data,” according to the Department of Defense. 

4. Flying Commuters 
Passenger jets and drones are not the only vehicles that will need to talk to each 
other in the none-too-far-off future. Though flight-minded laymen still have not 
seen a Jetsons-like age arrive, the personal air commute is, at least, closer than it 
was before. Jet pack ideas abound, (such as the Martin Jetpack and Marc 
Newson’s “Body Jet”) and flying cars are on the make (for example, Terrafugia 
and Moller International’s Skycar). Sure, the morning commute is not likely to 
crowd the sky the way it does our streets anytime soon. However, if the air is 
thick with nine-to-fivers, there will have to be some traffic system in place. 
Current air-traffic control is not designed to handle localized takeoffs and 
landings. But, just as vehicle-to-vehicle communication is soon to keep 
automatic cars from colliding, ​aircraft-to-aircraft interaction is soon to make the 
man in manned aircraft a little less necessary​. Congress has ordered the FAA to 
pave the way—legally and technically—for unmanned aircraft systems to fly in 
U.S. airspace by 2015. Flying commuters can piggyback on those changes. 

5. Aerospace Engineering Education 


Who’s going to put together these systems? The kids, of course. Perhaps the 
biggest trend in aerospace is the growing interest among students. There are 
now 65 programs in the U.S., and 25 are stand alone programs. Of the 38,000 
new aerospace engineering jobs that opened up last year, 4,000 of them were 
taken by students. Aerospace is the third most popular field for engineering 
students. A large percentage of them go into programming, “because they know 
their software will be implemented on real hardware,” says Yang. “The 
aerospace profession has expanded form hardware-based science, technology, 
and engineering, to systems, and even systems of systems-based engineering. 
At a very high level that trend has become even more important,” he adds.