Aerospace & Defense

person in front of airplane


Arizona's aerospace and defense research initiatives abound at the university level, demonstrating the state's commitment to the industry's growth.  Higher education and industry partnerships promote entrepreneurship and innovation while facilitating cutting-edge technology commercialization. Arizona’s universities award more degrees in natural sciences and engineering than anywhere else in the country.

Additionally, Arizona’s businesses, universities, community colleges and primary schools work closely to develop connections among education and industry that cultivate a strong and skilled workforce, all working closely with employers to deliver a curriculum and, ultimately, a workforce that is highly knowledgeable in industry-specific requirements.


Arizona State University (ASU)

As one of the world’s leading research and education institutions, ASU is home to one of the country’s three altitude chambers; the Flexible Display Center; the Center on Adaptive, Intelligence, Materials and Systems (CAIMS); and the Airworthiness Assurance Center of Excellence. ASU has participated in every major NASA planetary science mission since Apollo first put man on the moon.

  • Arizona State University conducts innovative research in all of the traditional core areas of aerospace engineering with applications to some of society's most pressing problems in energy, the environment, national defense, security and transportation. State-of-the-art laboratories and computational facilities support research and educational missions. 
  • ASU's Aviation Program offers comprehensive undergraduate and graduate degrees that combine academic studies with professional flight and aviation training.
  • U.S. News & World Report ranked ASU 28th in the nation in 2014 for its aerosapce, aeronautical and astronautical engineering programs and 3rd for its undergraduate supply chain and logistics programs. 
  • The College of Technology and Innovation is located in the dynamic, growing Gateway region on the southeast edge of the Greater Phoenix metropolitan area. The 600-acre campus is built in a beautiful desert arboretum and is home to more than 3,000 students studying in undergraduate and graduate majors. The academic facilities are among the best that ASU has to offer and were designed specifically to support the learning and discovery environment. The college is home to one of the most innovative engineering programs in the country and some of the most advanced learning laboratories available to students on any university campus.

University of Arizona (UA)

Known around the world for the College of Optical Sciences, the Department of Planetary Sciences and the College of Engineering, the UA provides baccalaureate and graduate degree programs for highly motivated students who are pursuing careers in aerospace and defense areas. The UA led NASA’s $420 million Phoenix Mars Mission and was an indispensable player in the recent NASA Mission to Mars that resulted in the landing of the robot Curiosity. UA has been awarded 5th most NASA grants in the country when comparing both dollar amount and number of grants to other universities (both public and private). UA is also at the forefront of developing technologies used in applications from bio-sensing to unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). Example projects include understanding the black hole at the center of our own galaxy, building cameras and large mirrors that have been installed in the largest Earth and space telescopes, and building systems for sensor data collection for intelligence and autonomous system decision-making.

  • Cutting-edge aerospace research is conducted at the UA, primarily in the Department of Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering. Nineteen research laboratories focus on topics such as fluid dynamics, aerodynamics, energy and fuel cell efficiency, mechanical characterization of materials, and space engineering. The department oversees the Rocket Laboratory which develops propellants for space. Current research delves into hybrids, safe oxidizers, and environmentally benign exhaust products. This lab, among others in the department, is often utilized by industry partners such as Raytheon Missile Systems. UA researchers also pursue interdisciplinary projects that seek to apply aerospace innovations to biomedical engineering endeavors.
  • In the Eller College’s top-ranked Department of Management Information Systems, faculty and students conduct research in artificial intelligence (AI) supported by grants from such large organizations as the U.S. Department of Defense and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Their research in adaptation and development of scalable and practical AI, machine learning, statistical analysis, computational linguistics, and visualization techniques have generated commercial products used by law enforcement agencies.
  • UA researchers are also using their knowledge of AI to combat terrorism. The UA Dark Web Project is a scientific program designed to study and understand international terrorism phenomena via a computational, data-centric approach.  In addition, MIS professors developed the Terrorism Knowledge Portal, a search engine specifically for terrorism research.

Northern Arizona University (NAU)

Located in Flagstaff and the third-largest public university in Arizona, NAU serves more than 27,000 students and has developed a curriculum that aligns perfectly with the state’s aerospace and defense initiatives. This includes diverse astrophysics programs, mechanical engineering, aerospace and defense research, adaptive research and materials, advanced composites and optomechanics:

  • Research currently conducted on smart materials and their applications significantly impact the A&D industry:
    • One cutting-edge project, involving faculty and students from NAU’s engineering and chemistry departments, focuses on a way to add an electrical-storage component to carbon-fiber-based composite materials.  These composites, which are lightweight yet strong enough to withstand harsh loading conditions, are being used in high-performance applications in many industries—from medical devices and sporting equipment to aerospace components for use in manufacturing airplane tails, wings, fuselages, propellers, and heat shields.
    • Another groundbreaking NAU project is focused on the modeling of magnetic-shape memory alloys (MSMAs) under complex loading conditions. Successfully developing a model will allow engineers to design MSMA-based power harvesters, actuators or sensors. This collaborative project within NAU’s mechanical engineering department involves both theoretical and practical breakthroughs.

Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University:

Founded just 22 years after the Wright Brothers’ first flight, Embry-Riddle is recognized as one of the best aviation and aerospace universities in the world. The curriculum covers the operation, engineering, research, manufacturing, marketing and management of modern aircraft and the systems that support them. The university has a deep pool of talented researchers and highly advanced students who regularly conduct extensive research that addresses the unique needs of aviation, aerospace and related industries.

  • Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University is the world's oldest, largest, and most prestigious university specializing in aviation and aerospace. It is the only fully accredited, aviation-oriented university in the world.
  • The curriculum at Embry-Riddle covers the operation, engineering, research, manufacturing, marketing, and management of modern aircraft and the systems that support them. The University engages in extensive research, consulting, and related activities that address the unique needs of aviation, aerospace, and related industries. 
  • The “Best Colleges” guidebook published by U.S. News & World Report 2015 ranks Embry-Riddle’s undergraduate aerospace engineering program 3rd in the nation.

Two-Year Colleges and Vocational Training

Maricopa Community Colleges (MCC)

The nation’s largest community college system, MCC offers associates degrees and certificates of completion in fields such as aerospace manufacturing, aviation maintenance and airway science.

Chandler-Gilbert Community College (C-GCC)

Aviation maintenance programs at C-GCC are certificate/degree and university transfer programs that have been designed for students to meet the aviation industry’s need for well-prepared technicians. Technical specialties include aircraft maintenance, electronics/avionics and aircraft construction.

Pima Community College

Pima Community College's Aviation Technology Programs are commercial aviation-oriented and move people from student to qualified professional in the aviation maintenance field.  Specifically, Pima Community College provides a Structural Repair and Modification program, an Avionics Technician program, and an FAA Airframe and Power Plant Certification Program.  All programs award students with certificates/associate degrees and several programs also provide Federal Licensure opportunities. 

Purpose-Driven Education Continuum

Corporate and public education collaboration between Boeing and Mesa public schools provides students both hands-on experience and special math skills programs. High school vocational training, provided by the Arizona Department of Education, offers a variety of programs useful to high-tech employers, including IT, drafting and design technology, electronics technology and industrial manufacturing. Primary education initiatives that involve innovative programs at the university and community college levels reach down to grades K-12 to develop interest and awareness in mathematics, the sciences and engineering.

K – 12 STEM Education Programs

  • STAR PARTIES, Science Foundation Arizona (SFAz): Funded by SFAz, the STAR PARTY Project puts powerful telescopes called Galileoscopes, built by students in afterschool programs, into hands of middle school students to help them learn STEM through astronomy.
  • Project Lead the Way – Project Lead the Way is a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing an engaging pre-engineering curriculum for middle and high school students across the country.

Apprenticeships and Programs

  • Arizona Tooling and Machining Association (ATMA): ATMA is comprised of more than 150 regular and associate member companies throughout Arizona, specializing in the provision of precision tooling and machining for the aerospace and defense sectors, as well as many others.
  • The Joint Alliance of Companies Managing Education for Technology (JACMET) – JACMET is a self-supporting group providing affordable and accessible career-long learning opportunities for engineers and technical professionals through a tactical curriculum, and strategic partnerships with businesses and universities.


  • FIRST® Robotics Competition: High school students and their mentors spend six weeks designing and building robots from a “kit of parts” designed to enhance problem-solving skills and then enter the robots into a series of competitions designed by engineers and other professionals. FIRST® designs accessible, innovative programs to build self-confidence, knowledge and life skills while motivating young people to pursue opportunities in science, technology and engineering. 
  • International Science Fair: The Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (Intel ISEF) is the world’s largest international pre-college science competition, and the premier global science competition for students in grades 9 – 12. More than 1,600 high school students from around the world gather to showcase their independent research. 

Strategic Partnerships