Aerospace Engineering

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The Department of Aerospace Engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is an international leader in aerospace science and engineering. With top 10 nationally ranked undergraduate and graduate programs, internationally renowned faculty, and state-of-the-art research facilities, the department has been committed to excellence and leadership in teaching, research, and service since its inception in 1944.

Aerospace engineers design, analyze, model, simulate, and test aircraft, spacecraft, satellites, missiles, rockets, and the larger systems in which these vehicles operate. The aerospace engineer is often a specialist in one of many areas such as propulsion, aerodynamics, fluids, materials, flight mechanics and avionics, heat transfer, structures, cost analysis, reliability, survivability, maintainability, operations research, marketing, or airspace management. Aerospace engineers have also applied their knowledge to related fields such as automated mass transportation, bioengineering, medical systems, environmental engineering, communications, and many more.

A student may pursue major study in one of the following general areas: aerodynamics, astrodynamics, combusion and propulsion, control systems, dynamical systems, fluid mechanics, structural mechanics, and materials.

Сourse Requirements

The formal requirements for the doctoral degree consist of a minimum of 64 hours beyond the MS degree. The doctoral program, consisting primarily of research, generally includes three stages:

  •  the completion of the MS degree or its equivalent and successful passing of the Departmental PhD Qualifying Examination (completion of these two requirements elevates a student’s status to that of a PhD Candidate);
  •  the completion of a minimum of 32 additional hours of course work and any special course requirements (independent study with thesis advisor must be approved in advance) and successful passing of the Preliminary Examination; and
  •  research with a minimum of 32 hours of thesis credit, preparation of a dissertation, and successful passing of the Final Examination.

The three stages can be completed in a minimum of three years of full-time study.  The academic program for each doctoral candidate is planned on an individual basis.

Because of the wide range of interests in the field of Aerospace Engineering, there are no specific course requirements for the PhD, except a mathematics requirement. 

Mathematics Requirements

  • PhD candidates are expected to exhibit competence in applied mathematics. They may meet this requirement by taking a minimum of 4 hours of mathematics courses (beyond the MS) from a list of approved Mathematics, Physics, and Theoretical and Applied Mechanics courses. 
  • At least 4 of the 8 required mathematics hours taken for the MS and PhD degrees must be from a 500-level course.

Teaching Assistance

In addition, each PhD student must serve as a departmental teaching assistant for one semester. This requirement can be met at any time during the student’s graduate studies in the department. International students for whom English is a second language must first pass an English Proficiency Requirement before serving as a departmental teaching assistant.

GPA Requirements

The Department of Aerospace Engineering requires a GPA of 3.00 on a 4.00 scale (A=4) for previous B.S. degree and graduate work. However, having a GPA higher than the minimum is no guarantee of admission. Also applicants having an MS degree generally must meet a higher standard.

Education Background Requirements

Applicants must have a B.S. degree in aerospace engineering or a closely related field such as mechanical or civil engineering from an accredited college in the United States or an approved institution of higher learning abroad in order to be eligible to apply. The department rarely admits students whose backgrounds are not in aerospace engineering. However, when such students are admitted it is usually necessary for those students to take undergraduate-level courses in their area of interest not-for-credit in order to meet the graduate courses prerequisites. Students whose backgrounds are not in aerospace engineering should look at the undergraduate program, suggested graduate program tracts and the course catalog for information about what coursework is required to prepare for the graduate program.


The department does not have a minimum score requirement for the GRE but a quantitative score in the 80th percentile is recommended. Scores on the Graduate Record Examination, General Test, are required of all applicants to the Department of Aerospace Engineering. Score reports must be coded to reach our program directly from ETS. The code for the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is 1836. The code for the Department of Aerospace Engineering is 1601.  Scores from ETS are entered into one university database so there is no need to resubmit scores if you apply to more than one department.

English Proficiency Requirement

The minimum Tes of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) score for admission is 103. Students who wish to be considered for teaching assistantships should have a score of at least 24 on the Speak section of the TOEFL exam. The TOEFL is required of applicants whose native language is not English, regardless of U.S. citizenship. We will also accept IELTS scores. For more information, please check English proficiency requirements.

Application Procedures

Please use the University's online graduate application.  Please read theapplication instructions.  A checklist is provided to help you assemble the information and support material you will need when completing the application. A nonrefundable application processing fee is required with the submission of your application. This fee cannot be waived. The application fee for domestic applicants is $70; for international applicants, the fee is $90.

The Department of Aerospace Engineering requires the following application materials:

  • Online application including resume and statement of purpose. (PLEASE NOTE - Students who do not have a MS degree should apply to the MS program regardless of whether or not they intend to continue for a doctoral degree in the future.)
  • In the Educational History section of the application, you will be asked to upload scanned versions of your transcripts and certificates of degree or diplomas. Please view your transcripts after the upload to be sure they are legible. Your transcript must show the name of the university and your name. Please do NOT mail a copy of the credentials which you have uploaded to your online application. 
  • In the Statements section of the application, please upload yourresume and statement of purpose. The statement of purpose should be approximately 1-2 pages, single spaced, 12 pt. font.
  • Three letters of reference (References must be submitted online.)
  • Official GRE scores for general test from ETS.
  • An Official TOEFL score, for those from countries in which English is not the first language. (Please note: The Department of Aerospace Engineering requires all students who are from countries in which English is not the first language to take the TOEFL test.)
  • The Certification of Declaration of Finances form and funding documents (Documents must be submitted online).  These documents are only required for international applicants and are only needed if no department funding is offered. AE does not require evidence of financial resources at the time you submit your application.  If you are approved for admission, but a funding offer is not made to you, you will be asked to upload evidence of financial resources.

Illinois Distinguished Fellowships

These three-year fellowships are awarded by the Graduate College to entering graduate students. Only fifteen are given across the University of Illinois campus each year. The department nominates applicants to this program based on their application for admission and supporting documents.

SURGE Fellowships

These fellowships are given by the College of Engineering to women and underrepresented students in the engineering area. The department nominates applicants to this program based on their application for admission and supporting documents.

Roy S. Carver Fellowship

These prestigious one-year fellowships are awarded by the College of Engineering to entering master’s degree and doctoral degree students. Only six Carver fellowships are given across the engineering campus. The department nominates applicants to this program based on their application for admission and supporting documents. Applicants must demonstrate a strong potential to pursue graduate programs in the College of Engineering successfully by exhibiting a solid and comprehensive understanding of basic and engineering science principles, outstanding creativity, and an exceptional potential to conduct innovative research.

Mavis Memorial Fund Scholarship (MMFS) Awards for Doctoral Students

This fellowship is awarded by the College of Engineering to entering and continuing PhD students who have demonstrated an aptitude for the instructional program. It is intended to encourage students to pursue an academic career. Applications are solicited from students and faculty and the department’s Graduate Awards Committee makes the official nomination to the Graduate College.

Department of Aerospace Engineering Awards

Roger A. Strehlow Memorial Award: The award is presented annually in his honor to a graduate student in recognition of outstanding research accomplishment. Professor Strehlow joined the aero faculty in 1961. His background was in chemistry, and he was an acknowledged expert in the field of detonations and explosions. He also made significant contributions toward the understanding of the structure, stability, and extinction of laminar premixed flames. He was an early advocate of microgravity combustion and successfully characterized the extinction and flammability states of flames under microgravity conditions. Professor Strehlow was the first AIAA Fellow in the Department of Aerospace Engineering.

College of Engineering Awards

Henry Ford II Scholar Award: The award is made to an outstanding first-year engineering graduate student entering the second year of study. The award is based upon performance during the first year of study and is given in addition to the usual assistantship or other support. In addition to grade point average, the award is based upon other evidence of accomplishments such as initiating research or contributing directly to practice. When more than one nominee meets all criteria, preference will be given to the nominee whose field will contribute most to areas related to the automotive industry. The Henry Ford II Scholar Award, in the amount of $5,000 is supported by an endowment grant of $100,000 from the Ford Motor Company Fund.

Ross J. Martin Award

The Ross J. Martin Award has been established to recognize an outstanding research achievement by a graduate student in the College of Engineering. The award is to recognize the importance of research in graduate engineering education. Dean Martin served as Director of the Experiment Station for twenty-six years; the engineering research budget grew from $5 million to $36 million dollars under his administration.

Mavis Memorial Fund Scholarship Awards for Doctoral Students

These awards are presented annually to students working for their doctorates in the College of Engineering. It is the donor's desire that those students planning to become teachers be given preference. Approximately ten awards for an amount of $5,000 each are given out each year. The nominations to the college should be submitted by the department head.

Core Topics

Core topics for each PD are given below.  These core topics can be adjusted for each candidate based on the courses submitted for the qualifying exam.

Aerodynamics and Propulsion

  1. Incompressible Flow:
    • Governing equations
    • Potential flow
    • Airfoil Theory
    • Finite wings
    • Viscous flow
  2. Compressible Flow:
    • Conservation of mass momentum and energy of a fluid
    • Isentropic flow
    • One-dimensional compressible flow
    • Oblique and normal shock waves
    • Prandtl-Meyer expansions
    • Shock-expansion method and method of weak waves
    • Quasi-one-dimensional flow
    • Unsteady waves
  3. Propulsion:
    • Conservation of mass, momentum and energy, thrust equations
    • Chemical rocket performance
    • Combustion chemistry and nozzle flow of a reacting gas
    • Ram-, turbo-, and fan-jets:  ideal cycles and efficiency
    • Subsonic and supersonic inlets
    • Component analysis of compressors, turbines, combustors, and nozzles
    • Off-design behavior
    • Throughflow theory -- the Euler turbine equation

 Dynamics and Control 

  1. Dynamics:
    • Particle kinematics and dynamics in translating and rotating coordinate frames
    • Newton’s second law: translational and rotational applications, mechanical work, kinetic and potential energy
    • Lagrange’s equations for finite-degree-of-freedom mechanical systems
    • Multiple-degree-of-freedom vibration theory
    • Rigid body kinematics and dynamics
  2. Control:
    • Modeling of linear dynamic systems
    • Convolution and block diagram algebra
    • Laplace transform solution of differential equations
    • Linear systems stability: Routh's criterion
    • Performance specification of controlled systems
    • Feedback control of linear systems:  design using different types of feedback
    • Root locus analysis and design
    • Frequency response analysis and design

Structures and Materials

  • Analysis of stress and strain
  • Constitution of isotropic and orthotropic materials
  • Properties of common aerospace materials
  • Euler-Bernoulli beams in extension and bending
  • Torsion of shafts
  • Analysis of open and closed section monocoque and semi-monocoque beams and shafts
  • Energy methods, including theorems of virtual work, minimum potential and complementary energy, and Castigliano's Theorem
  • Theory of elastic stability with application to beam-columns
  • Finite element methods applied to truss and frame type structures
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