Help me engineer a graduation gift
May 10, 2019 9:41 PM   Subscribe

My nephew is graduating next weekend with a bachelor's degree in aerospace engineering. What would be a good gift? I'm thinking (but not stuck on) a book, something he'll be able to use in his future or one that will simply be interesting to someone in that line. I have no idea what he's been made to read during his studies, though, which complicates matters more than somewhat. Any ideas?
posted by bryon to Education (22 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
It's unlikely he's read much of anything readable, if my experience in engineering school 20 years ago is any guide. Other than complimentary studies (which by definition are unrelated), it's all textbooks full of math.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 9:46 PM on May 10

To expand a little more, directly useful books are likely to be either existing textbooks or technical literature that will depend on the very specific aspects of his job (ie not a general reference).

So I'd recommend a book that is pleasurable to read, probably some narrative aspect of aerospace history - early flight, or the space race, or if there is a good book about Kelly Johnson's Skunk Works department at Lockheed or something like that.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 9:53 PM on May 10 [2 favorites]

A nice set of Mitutoyo calipers if you can swing it.
posted by coberh at 11:23 PM on May 10 [2 favorites]

If they are available where he lives, how about an aerial silks class? He's done a lot of reading and sitting over the years and will continue to do so; whether he gets to do so in comfort or in pain partially depends on how he treats and trains his body now.
posted by batter_my_heart at 12:38 AM on May 11

I'm not in aerospace, but have spent a fair bit of time working closely with people who are. My guess is that a useful technical book is going to be tough. He's probably already got the classic textbooks and predicting what he'll need in the future depends critically on exactly what he's doing, at a level that even he might find hard to predict.

A popular history or a biography might be more fun. von Kármán's autobiography is supposed to be good. (I haven't read it.) There are lots of histories, though I don't have any recommendations. Or, maybe, something adjacent but not actually in his field, such as a set of the Edward Tufte books if he's interested in design or the Feynman Lectures if he liked his physics classes.

Another option might be antiques or souvenirs. You'd probably want to tailor it a bit to what he's specifically interested in. But, for example, you can find things like 30 year old NASA mugs / patches / commemorative stuff on Ebay for a surprisingly low price. The same is true for specific aerospace companies and vehicles.

Also, displate, and other companies, have a tonne of neat looking aviation-related blueprint metal-posters that would make a fine gift. Figuring out which one he'd like is a harder problem.
posted by eotvos at 1:12 AM on May 11 [1 favorite]

Slide rule. Totally "un-useful" but seriously cool. I mean, they sent men to the moon using slide rules.
posted by notsnot at 4:32 AM on May 11 [5 favorites]

I graduated with an aerospace engineering degree, and I will second that there was no real "required reading" other than a lot of heavy math textbooks. It's also (like most undergrad programs) a fairly broad degree - I have never had a need for calipers or drafting materials for my jobs, for example.

If he went to (forgive this wording) a "real" engineering school, a flying lesson would be a great idea. (Not so much if he went to somewhere like Embry Riddle or UND.) Hardcore engineering programs focus heavily on theory and the practical aspects often fall by the wayside, so getting out and experiencing what he's been studying for the past four years would be pretty neat.

If you're set on books, Stick and Rudder by Langewiesche is the gold standard book about flying airplanes. Saint Exupery also wrote several books about flying; Night Flight might be a good choice.

Something a little more whimsical might be a little toy RC copter/drone. You can find small ones on Amazon for around $30; they fly well indoors and last about 5 minutes on a single charge.
posted by backseatpilot at 5:16 AM on May 11 [4 favorites]

On the other side, how about a copy of "The Way Things Work" by David Macaulay? Or others by him in that vein?

Obviously, this is a bit lighter of a suggestion.
posted by Ms Vegetable at 6:12 AM on May 11 [2 favorites]

My brother's an aerospace engineer. Nthing that reading isn't really a thing for that degree. My parents got him a one-off flying lesson for his 21st birthday, though, and he was over the moon. (Pun intended.) I gave him a handmade wooden abacus as a jokey-but-pretty gift, and he liked it enough that he displays it in his otherwise spartan minimalist house, but yeah the flying lesson was fantastic.
posted by basalganglia at 6:16 AM on May 11 [2 favorites]

My AE buddy totally squeed out for the LEGO Saturn V rocket kit.
posted by spinturtle at 6:32 AM on May 11 [1 favorite]

First Man - The authorized biography of Neil Armstrong. 800 page book - pretty sure he didn't have time to read it while getting an Areo degree.
posted by COD at 7:28 AM on May 11

Please help him make up for the likely gaps in his education. You'll be doing him a huge favor (and maybe the rest of us).

One thought: A Jane Austen Education: How Six Novels Taught Me About Love, Friendship, and the Things That Really Matter
posted by amtho at 7:58 AM on May 11 [3 favorites]

^^ I say the above as someone who not only studied an engineering-adjacent subject (computer science) and dated a lot of engineers, but also as someone who has noticed said gaps in myself, and watched others work to overcome those gaps.
posted by amtho at 7:59 AM on May 11

If you can find a less expensive reprint, Ignition by Clark is kind of hysterical.
posted by sciencegeek at 8:42 AM on May 11 [3 favorites]

Here’s the reprint.
posted by sciencegeek at 8:48 AM on May 11

Machinery’s Handbook. There’s always somebody in the office whose copy you can borrow, but it’s nice to have your own (actually recent!) version.
posted by Huffy Puffy at 11:10 AM on May 11 [1 favorite]

Nthing an intro flying lesson. My first time taking the yoke and taking flight (which, at least at my intro lesson, they had you do) is something I'll never forget.
posted by booooooze at 1:20 PM on May 11

If you want to give flying, but your friend is a little eco-conscious, you could also consider hang-gliding lessons or a tandem flight.
posted by amtho at 5:23 PM on May 11

Great ideas here I never would have come up with. Thank you all!
posted by bryon at 7:33 PM on May 11

I was going to say “slide rule” too. There are usually nice antique ones on eBay. Bonus if it is a circular rule. The thinking man’s slide rule.
posted by Gilgamesh's Chauffeur at 7:55 PM on May 11

"Project Orion" by George Dyson is a fun book. The true story of how we were on the path to atomic bomb powered spaceships.
posted by Sophont at 10:02 PM on May 11

I doubt any university AeroEng degree requires a copy of Bruhn these days, but if you turn up on day one of your new job with a copy under your arm you'd get serious cred points.
posted by trialex at 4:15 PM on May 12 [1 favorite]

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