Mesothelioma in Aeronautical Engineers

Quick Summary

Aeronautical engineers are at high risk of developing mesothelioma and other asbestos-related illnesses because of their exposure to asbestos used in military and civilian aircraft between World War II and the late-1980s.

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Aeronautical Engineers and Mesothelioma Explained

Aeronautical engineers help research and manufacture aircraft and spacecraft. They are often responsible for design, research, manufacturing or maintenance, with most engineers specializing in one or two of these fields.

Asbestos was routinely used as insulation in planes and other military flight objects up until the late 1980s, long after it was discovered that friable asbestos had devastating health impacts. People who inhale asbestos fibers can develop mesothelioma, a deadly cancer with a latency period of 10-50 years after asbestos exposure.

Did you know?
Once the dangers of asbestos were acknowledged by the Air Force, asbestos use by aeronautical engineers was phased out. Unfortunately for many, it was too late. Hundreds of veterans are now being diagnosed with new cases of mesothelioma each year.

Many types of aircraft exposed aeronautical engineers to asbestos including:

  • Air transport vehicles
  • Bombers
  • Propeller planes and jets
  • Fighter planes
  • Helicopters
  • Missiles
  • Spacecraft

Even today, the use of asbestos isn’t fully banned. Aircraft parts that are imported from other parts of the world may contain asbestos. Aeronautical engineers need to be aware of these dangers and take precautions to protect themselves.

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History of Aeronautical Engineers

The U.S. Air Force has employed aeronautical engineers since its inception in 1947. Aeronautical engineers are responsible for making and maintaining military aircraft, including missiles. When NASA was founded in 1958, the second branch of aeronautical engineers was invented, focusing on spaceflight, satellites and space vehicles.

During the initial years of aircraft development, asbestos was used abundantly. It insulated and fireproofed planes, and was lightweight, inexpensive and easy to come by.

Asbestos was also routinely used in:

  • Aircraft brakes
  • Engines
  • Electric systems
  • Gaskets
  • Torque valves
  • Heating systems
  • Heat shields
  • Emergency blankets

Aeronautical engineers built their planes with asbestos because it was simply the best material of its kind. But those who were routinely around the substance were inadvertently put at risk, and many aeronautical engineers are paying the price today.

When the dangers of asbestos were first discovered, the military and many other organizations ignored the science. It was costly and inconvenient. But over time, evidence built up, and it was no longer possible for the Air Force to turn a blind eye.

Did you know?
By the mid-1980s, health commissions began to seriously review asbestos use in planes and other aircraft, and aeronautical engineers sought alternative materials to phase out their dependency on asbestos.

Highest Risk Jobs For Aeronautical Engineers

The level of asbestos exposure and subsequent likelihood of developing mesothelioma is greatly dependent on these fields. Depending on the role of the specific engineer, they may have frequently come into contact with this asbestos.

For example, aeronautical engineers who specialize in maintenance would be in frequent contact with aircrafts containing asbestos. Older asbestos is more likely to degrade and become airborne, increasing the risk for veterans who were responsible for maintaining aircraft.

Even today, aeronautical engineers may be tasked with decommissioning a plane or helicopter that has parts containing asbestos.

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By contrast, aeronautical engineers who specialize in design and work offsite would rarely, if ever, come into contact with airborne asbestos. These engineers create the blueprints and plans for planes, helicopters or spacecraft, generally working in a more “white collar” manner.

Engineers who manufactured planes before the asbestos warnings in the 1970s are also at risk of developing mesothelioma. Though newer asbestos is less likely to become friable and cause health issues, it’s still a highly dangerous material.

Did you know?
Aeronautical engineers who specialized in manufacturing from World War II until the 1980s were in regular contact with asbestos-containing materials.

While aircraft built today no longer intentionally contain asbestos, some imported parts may still contain the deadly material. In addition, warplanes that have been preserved for historical purposes, as well as older planes that are still in good working order, may contain asbestos that puts aeronautical engineers at risk.

Aeronautical Engineers and Asbestos Lawsuits

Aeronautical engineers and their families who have been exposed to asbestos as a result of their occupation have successfully brought forward lawsuits resulting in compensation. If you have been diagnosed with mesothelioma or another asbestos-related disease, you may be able to receive financial compensation to help alleviate the burden.

If you haven’t been diagnosed with mesothelioma but previously worked in an area that contained asbestos, regular screening is recommended. The sooner a disease like mesothelioma is detected, the better the prognosis for the patient. Catching the disease before it progresses too far can be vital for maintaining your quality of life.

For more information on obtaining compensation through the VA, connect with one of our VA-Accredited Claims agents today to find out if you’re eligible.

Veterans Support Team
Christopher Dryfoos PhotoWritten by:

Contributing Author

Christopher Dryfoos is a journalist and member of the American Medical Writers Association (AMWA). As the grandson of the U.S. Navy’s first forensic pathologist, he aims to help veterans with mesothelioma access needed care.

View Sources

USAF Occupational and Environmental Health Laboratory, Aerospace Medical Division, “Air Force Asbestos Guidance For Rating and Assessing Damage and Exposure,” Retrieved from Accessed on 30 March 2018.

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