jlederer.jpgJerome Fox Lederer knew that flying could be a risky venture, so he spent his entire life trying to minimize that risk.
Lederer earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in mechanical engineering from New York University, and became an aeronautical engineer in the plane maintenance department of the U.S. Postal Service in 1926. At that time, flying airmail routes was considered extremely dangerous; 31 of the first 40 pilots died in airplane crashes. To break this pattern, he developed film crash tests and redesigned each plane’s exhausts stacks to keep fuel from spilling out of the plane’s tank onto the hot exhaust manifold.
When Charles Lindbergh decided to make his solo flight across the Atlantic Ocean in 1927, he asked Lederer to inspect his plane, the single-engine Spirit of St. Louis.
Lederer spent 11 years as the chief engineer for Aero Insurance Underwriters before accepting an appointment as director of the Civil Aeronautics Board’s Bureau of Air Safety. One of his first tasks was to add blinking anticollision lights to DC-3s. He also ordered all planes to add flight data recorders (black boxes), a move that was initially opposed by the Air Line Pilots Association. During World War II, he served as the director of the Airlines War Training Institute, then organized the Flight Safety Foundation, a nonprofit international organization for the global exchange of information on aircraft accident prevention.
When astronauts Roger Chaffee, Virgil Grissom and Edward White II were killed in the 1967 Project Apollo space capsule fire, NASA asked Lederer to head its Office of Manned Space Flight Safety. In 1970, he was named director of safety for all of NASA.
More than 100 honors were bestowed on Lederer for his contributions to the aviation safety industry, including the Edward Warner Award, one of civil aviation’s highest honors from the International Civil Aviation Organization. Lederer was inducted into the International Space Hall of Fame. And the International Society of Air Safety Investigators named its annual award for achievement and technical excellence after him.
Lederer died on Feb. 6 from congestive heart failure. He was 101.