Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division
Public Affairs Department
Code 750000D, Stop 1014
China Lake, CA 93555-6100
Phone 760-939-8404 : Fax 760-939-2056

China Lake engineer honored at NAVAIR's women symposium

Date: 30-Jun-10
News Release Number: ECL201006301

Elsa Hennings presented the Naval Air Systems Command Women Moving Forward Award by Rear Admiral Timothy S. Matthews
Elsa Hennings, NAWCWD engineer, is presented the Naval Air Systems Command Women Moving Forward Award by Rear Adm. Timothy S. Matthews, commander of the Fleet Readiness Centers and assistant commander for Logistics and Industrial Operations. Photo by Victor Pitts.
 
Elsa Hennings speaking at the Annual Women Moving Forward Symposium
Elsa Hennings, a mechanical engineer in Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division Research and Engineering's Human Systems Department, accepts the Naval Air Systems Command Women Moving Forward Award. Photo by Trish Gresham.
 

Elsa Hennings, mechanical engineer in Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division (NAWCWD) Research and Engineering's Human Systems Department, was selected as this year's recipient of the Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) Women Moving Forward Award.

"I'm pleased to be getting this award but am also a bit surprised," Hennings said. "I don't think of myself as anybody special – just someone who's been very lucky to be at the right place at the right time."

Rear Adm. Timothy S. Matthews, commander of the Fleet Readiness Centers and assistant commander for Logistics and Industrial Operations, presented Hennings the award on June 14 at the 3rd Annual Women Moving Forward Symposium - Unique Tools for Unique Women at the University of North Florida in Jacksonville.

The award recognizes civilian and military personnel for their professional, community and leadership contributions and commitment to the growth and advancement of female employees in the work force. Terry Mangrum, head of the Human Systems Department, nominated Hennings for the award.

"It's not a coincidence that Elsa has been at the right place at the right time – many times," Mangrum said. "Her reputation for responsible guidance and technical wisdom has made her a nationally recognized expert in the field of parachute systems. Her enthusiasm, patience, and logical decision-making ability are inspirational."

Originally from Missouri, Hennings came to China Lake in 1983 and, like many, planned to stay only a few years before moving on to the next job.

"I always wanted to work in a small town, and with no humidity or mosquitoes here I was in paradise," she said.

Twenty seven years later, she is still serving the warfighter at China Lake as well as the U.S. space program. Hennings has designed parachute systems for products ranging from tiny micro-munitions to large supersonic targets, from bailout systems for Navy aircrew and astronauts to severable crew capsules.

With her background in high-strength textiles, Hennings was picked by the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory to design the 70-foot communication attachment tethers used on the NASA Mars Pathfinder and Mars Exploration Rover missions. To date, Hennings has four patents and is currently serving on the parachute development team of NASA's Orion Crew Module.

"I have been very fortunate to have had many opportunities to do some very challenging and enlightening work," Hennings said. "I certainly don't have all the answers but I learn from others, work with integrity and do the best I can."

She is one of a handful of parachute consultants called to serve on programs of national interest including Mars Science Laboratory, and the Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle. She has served as one of two parachute consultants for the National Research Council.

Her peers elected Hennings to serve as the chair of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics Aerodynamic Decelerator Systems Technical Committee, the international group responsible for advancing the state-of-the-art as well as training those new to the industry. In her role as committee chair, she encouraged broad diversity in the committee membership, which has resulted in a 50 percent increase in women, a 13 percent increase in members of international origin, and 100 percent increase in African-American membership.

"Elsa's community and international leadership have made a significant difference in the lives of many," Mangrum said.

Hennings has been involved in the local community since 1991, when her first child was diagnosed with developmental disabilities. She served for six years on the Board of Directors of Desert Area Resources and Training. During her tenure on the board, she received the Humanitarian of the Year award.

She was instrumental in the establishment of a public charter school in Ridgecrest, which is currently in its ninth year of operation. Hennings was also elected to serve on the charter school's board of directors for six years, serving as board president for four of those years. In addition to her board responsibilities, Hennings was involved with the students, doing engineering demonstrations in the classrooms.

Hennings has mentored more than 200 girls through the Expanding Your Horizons program since 2002. This program is designed to encourage 6th- to 8th-grade girls to pursue careers in math and science by giving them hands-on demonstrations by women in technical fields.

"This is a great opportunity to interact with children on a professional level," Hennings said. "I've never been disappointed with the reaction I've gotten from the girls. It's fantastic to see the smiles and astonishment on their faces when they perform experiments and learn about what we do. I highly recommend getting involved in this program."


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