Aviation safety pioneer Jerome F. Lederer, who inspected "The Spirit of St. Louis" -- with some misgivings -- before Charles Lindbergh's historic trans-Atlantic flight and went on to head NASA's safety program, died Friday in Laguna Hills, Calif. He was 101.
Officials at the Flight Safety Foundation, the nonprofit international organization Mr. Lederer established in 1947, said he died of congestive heart failure.
Mr. Lederer spearheaded the use of "black box" flight data recorders, which are carried today on almost every airliner and provide investigators with invaluable clues on the cause of air crashes.
Mr. Lederer, whose career spanned aviation from the early airmail flights of the 1920s to the space flights of the 1970s, launched the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's Office of Manned Space Flight Safety after the launchpad space capsule fire in 1967 that killed astronauts Roger Chaffee, Virgil Grissom, and Edward White II. "Jerry was a realist," astronaut Neil Armstrong, the first man to set foot on the moon, said several years ago. "He recognized that flight without risk was flight without progress, but he spent a lifetime minimizing that risk."
One of those interested in his work was Charles Lindbergh, a young airmail pilot. The day before Lindbergh took off on the solo flight that was to make him an international hero, Mr. Lederer checked out the fragile, single-engine Spirit of St. Louis. "I did not have too much hope that he would make it," Mr. Lederer admitted years later. In 1940, he was named safety director of the Civil Aeronautics Board, today's National Transportation Safety Board.