Skip to main content

Aeronautical Engineering vs. Aerospace Engineering: What Is the Difference?

Key Takeaways

  • Aeronautical engineering and aerospace engineering follow similar concepts, but they focus on different areas.

  • Aeronautical engineering deals with aircraft design and engineering for flight within the atmosphere.

  • Aerospace engineering deals with engineering for air flight or space flight.

Aeronautical engineering vs. aerospace engineering graphic

All aircraft are complex systems that must operate in a variety of flight conditions and situations. The different fields of aircraft engineering (astronautics, aeronautics, and aerospace) focus on different operational conditions and different types of aircraft. New engineers that want to get into these fields often question the differences between aeronautical engineering vs. aerospace engineering, as these fields are related. However, the types of aircraft and the simulations involved can be quite different, both at the aircraft level and down to individual assemblies.

Aeronautical Engineering vs. Aerospace Engineering

The differences between aeronautical engineering and aerospace engineering have to do with the type of systems being developed and the main focus of analysis. Both fields of engineering rely on the same fundamental disciplines, namely physics, mechanical engineering, aerodynamics, and fluid mechanics.

What Is Aeronautical Engineering?

The field of aeronautics focuses on designing and building aircraft, such as airplanes and helicopters, which will fly within the atmosphere. In terms of the fusion of engineering disciplines involved in aeronautics, the field involves the design and investigation of the aerodynamic characteristics of aircraft, covering important topics in physics, mechanical engineering, and of course, fluid dynamics and aerodynamics. Aeronautical engineers need to know many important concepts in these areas to help them design aircraft and predict their dynamic behavior.

In terms of mechanical engineering and aerodynamics, aeronautical engineers are responsible for designing and analyzing airfoils, control strategies, lift and drag on aircraft, and the overall body of the aircraft. Some of these important points to be designed and analyzed include:

  • Main aerodynamic forces acting on an aircraft during flight
  • The aircraft’s flight capabilities (thrust, top speed, etc.)
  • How wing shape and body shape affect flight capabilities
  • How to maximize a specific flight characteristic without deteriorating others

Analysis of an aircraft and its operating requirements can help designers develop control systems that are needed to keep the aircraft operating during flight. This is where electronics systems need to be planned and designed so that the aircraft’s flight characteristics can be maintained and flight is stable. Obviously, this is not the only electronic system in an aircraft; there are also subsystems such as engine control and monitoring, communication systems, and much more. Aeronautical engineers have to work with other designers to make sure they can translate aerodynamic and control requirements into functional requirements for the electronic systems that control the aircraft.

Investigating commercial aircraft with simulations is one set of tasks performed by aeronautical engineers. This aircraft model is being meshed prior to performing CFD simulations.

What Is Aerospace Engineering?

Aerospace engineers design systems that could theoretically operate at any altitude, inside Earth’s atmosphere, in space, or passing between both domains. Aerospace engineering is often equated with aeronautical engineering, and the two terms are sometimes used interchangeably. However, they are strictly different disciplines, with aerospace engineers focusing on vehicles that can cross through the boundary of Earth’s atmosphere and into space.

Because aerospace engineers may focus on both areas, they are often tasked to design, simulate, test, and analyze some of the following systems:

  • Launch vehicles
  • Propulsion systems
  • Satellites
  • High altitude aircraft
  • Vehicle dynamics controls

Some subsystems on this list overlap with many of the same systems that would be developed by an aeronautical engineer. For example, propulsion and vehicle dynamics are needed in any aircraft for flight control, regardless of its flight altitude.

Before looking at the greater differences involved in aerospace engineering, it helps to touch on another field: astronautical engineering. As its name implies, astronautical engineering is the study and design of aircraft operating outside Earth’s atmosphere. Aerospace engineering is something of a fusion between aeronautical and astronautical engineering, generally focusing on aircraft that need to operate in both domains.

CFD in Aeronautics and Aerospace

Aerospace and aeronautical systems analysis both start with the same set of basic software: CFD simulation applications. Unique propulsion systems, aircraft designs, and flight control systems are needed for next-generation aircraft. These systems and their effect on aircraft operation need to be simulated before being put into a new aircraft for testing. Ideally, the electronics, mechanical and electromechanical control systems and the body of the aircraft will work together to provide the desired performance.

Mathematically, it’s extremely difficult to simulate everything about an aircraft’s operation considering the diversity of the system being designed. Instead, designers use a suite of simulation applications to simulate isolated portions of the system individually with high accuracy. Aeronautical and aerospace engineers use CFD applications to determine how fluid flow determines the operational characteristics of aircraft, which then determines how the internal mechanical and electronics systems will need to operate to provide the required flight performance.

Whether you’re just learning the differences between aeronautical engineering vs. aerospace engineering or you’re beginning your career as an aircraft engineer, you need to simulate flow behavior and the resultant aerodynamic forces using the complete set of CFD simulations from Cadence. Pointwise helps you generate numerical meshes from physical design data and the Omnis 3D Solver simulation application implements modern numerical approaches to determine flow behavior in your system. These two applications give systems designers everything they need to build and run CFD simulations.

Subscribe to our newsletter for the latest CFD updates or browse Cadence’s suite of CFD software, including Omnis and Pointwise, to learn more about how Cadence has the solution for you.

CFD Software Subscribe to Our Newsletter

Untitled Document