The aerospace sector, one of the largest and most powerful industries in the United States, supplies five markets: military aircraft, missiles, space, commercial airliners, and general aviation. The U.S. aerospace sector is considered the largest in the world and is the main supplier of both military and civil aerospace hardware to the rest of the world. This sector directly employs about 500,000 workers in scientific and technical jobs, and supports more than 700,000 jobs in related fields. Because of the great emphasis on research and development, about 25% of those who work in aerospace are engineers, scientists, and technicians. Aviation is one of the fastest-growing industries in the United States, and it has increased yearly at the rate of at least 14%.
The Aerospace Industry
The aerospace industry's product line is broad because its primary products, flight vehicles, require up to millions of individual parts. In addition, many support systems are needed to operate and maintain the vehicles. In terms of sales, military aircraft have the largest market share, followed by space systems, civil aircraft, and missiles. According to a study by the U.S. Department of Commerce, aerospace exports, directly and indirectly, support more jobs than the export of any other commodity. In 2017, the U.S. aerospace industry contributed $143 billion in export sales to the U.S. economy.
In 1958, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) succeeded the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics and initiated the Mercury manned space program. In 1959, the U.S. Aircraft Industries Association, which was formed in 1919 to promote American civil aviation, changed its name to the Aerospace Industries Association. U.S. aerospace industry interests are represented through the AIA, an aerospace-industry-funded organization that provides a forum for technical and policy issues, and whose membership consists of the major companies in the field. In 2000, America's largest aerospace companies, ranked in terms of total revenue, were Boeing, Lockheed Martin, United Technologies, Honeywell, Raytheon, and Textron. Among the leading companies in the American corporate aircraft market are Raytheon, Cessna, and Gulfstream, which is part of General Dynamics.
The aerospace sector's origin in the United States dates back to December 1903, when Wilbur and Orville Wright demonstrated an airplane capable of powered, sustained flight. In 1908 the Wrights secured a contract from the U.S. Army to make a single aircraft, and also licensed their patents to allow the Astra Company to manufacture aircraft in France. Glenn Curtiss of New York began selling his own aircraft in 1909, prompting many American aircraft hobbyists to turn entrepreneurial.