SWE Fellow, pioneer, and accomplished pilot
Elayne M. Brower, F.SWE, known as “Sandy,” died Nov. 14, 2021, in Richland, Washington. A pioneer member of the Society, she joined SWE in 1954 while employed in the aerodynamics lab at the David Taylor Model Basin. Brower graduated from Purdue University in 1949 with a B.S. in aeronautical engineering, rising above her high school guidance counselor’s efforts to dissuade her with the “fact” that girls could not be engineers or pilots. With the support of her parents, she went on to do both.
Brower’s entry into professional life was difficult. She found that industry was not receptive or interested in hiring a woman engineer, and it took many months before she was finally offered a position with the U.S. Naval Air Development Center in Johnsville, Pennsylvania. There, she worked on aerodynamic design, flight path evaluations, and design modifications to Navy aircraft. She then joined the Navy’s David Taylor Model Basin, where she spent several years before returning to graduate school at the University of Michigan. She graduated with a master’s in nuclear engineering in 1958.
Over the course of her career, Brower worked on interesting projects related to the space program and later, to the oversight of fossil, nuclear, and liquid natural gas power plants in the United States and internationally. She was a licensed professional engineer in Washington and California.
Following several classified positions in space-flight development, in 1965, Brower was hired by Boeing in Huntsville, Alabama, to work on the Saturn V propulsion. There, she was involved in analyzing flow and chemical composition of the exhaust to determine radio flame effects, critical to the astronauts’ ability to maintain radio signal to ground control in the first minutes of the Apollo spacecraft’s liftoff. She became supervisor of the S-IVB stage propulsion group and developed the Apollo flight manual for emergency crew recovery. Moving into work on commercial aircraft, she transferred to Boeing’s Seattle facility. From there, she held positions with the Washington Public Power Supply System and, moving to San Francisco, Bechtel Corporation. She retired in 1993 and returned to Richland, Washington.
Active in SWE throughout her career, Brower served on the executive committee, the forerunner of today’s board of directors, both as a committee member from 1964–66, and as treasurer, 1966–67. A life member and a charter member of the Eastern Washington Section, she became a SWE Fellow in 1985.
Additional professional activities included membership in the National Society of Professional Engineers, where she served as a program manager and developed a reorientation program for former aerospace engineers. Under sponsorship from the United States Department of Labor, this training and educational program supported engineers transitioning from aerospace to heavy construction industries. Brower also published a number of technical papers, and was a member of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics.
Brower’s love of aviation led her to become an accomplished pilot and an active member of the Ninety-Nines: International Organization of Women Pilots. When she made the move from Boeing’s facility in Huntsville to Seattle, Brower flew solo in her own plane across the United States. Also active in the Girl Scouts, Brower maintained her membership from childhood into retirement.
In her student days at Purdue, Brower was one of a small group of women mentored by the renowned Lillian Moller Gilbreth, Ph.D., known affectionately as “the first lady of engineering.” With Dr. Gilbreth’s support and direction, the group established Pi Omicron Women Engineers Club, which later became the SWE student/collegiate section at Purdue.
Services were held Nov. 23 in Richland. Donations in Brower’s memory may be made to the Macular Degeneration Foundation, the Braille Institute, or an animal rescue shelter.
— Anne Perusek, SWE Director of Editorial and Publications