At 14, Henry Lederer made a deal to clean the aircraft at Miller’s Air Field on Staten Island in exchange for flying lessons and that passion for aviation continued as a U.S. Army Air Corps fighter pilot in World War II and in his professional life.
When he turned 19, Lederer got his pilot’s license and at 21, one month after Pearl Harbor, he joined the Army Air Corps in the 361st Fighter Group, 374th Fighter Squadron. While stationed in Bottisham, England in 1943, Lederer flew the P-47 Thunderbolt and P-51 Mustang during 92 missions, including D-Day, June 6, 1944 when the U.S. and the Allies invaded Normandy, France. On his final mission in Europe, Lederer was one of 30 pilots out of 86 to survive.
“He admired the maneuverability of the Mustang but he had the deepest affection for the Thunderbolt,” said his cousin, Noel Kleppel. “He said it was ‘built like a tank and always got him home.’”
Born in Bridgeport, Conn., the Atlantic Beach resident died on Sept. 22, at 93.
After Lederer returned from the war, he worked as a senior engineer at Fairchild Republic for the A-10 Thunderbolt II, and then as senior engineer for Northrop Grumman, a Bethpage-based aviation company. He also served as a Federal Aviation Administration flight examiner for 27 years, retiring at 88.
“Henry taught innumerable pilots to fly and was responsible for training numerous Long Islanders who became U.S. Air Force pilots and commercial airline pilots,” Kleppel said.
In 1946, Lederer founded Lederer Brothers, a jewelry manufacturer, know for its “Lady Ellen” pearls and patents for magnetically interchangeable jewelry. He also served as a flight-training director for Cosmopolitan Aviation and later became a certified flight instructor.
He went on to become the oldest airman to fly a P-47 at the Republic Aviation Airshow in 1966, and flew again at Republic Airport’s Lindbergh Day Celebration on May 16, 1977.
Lederer served as national president of the P-47 Thunderbolt Veterans Association and was instrumental in creating their monument at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base Air Museum in Dayton, Ohio, as well as contributed to the Long Island Cradle of Aviation Museum in Uniondale.
According to his son, Wayne, Lederer was also active in the Village of Atlantic Beach, where moved in 1956, and served as the first beach commissioner and was vital in incorporating the village 51 years ago. “Everybody loved him,” Wayne said. “[Our family] has received hundreds of responses about how much he has helped shape people’s lives. He helped quite a few people learn how to fly which has been a stepping stone for people’s lives; he gave a lot of people a leg up in life.”
Services were held at Boulevard-Riverside Chapels in Hewlett on Sept. 24. Lederer was interred at Cedar Park Cemetery in Paramus, New Jersey.
He is survived by his wife, Rita, and children Wayne, Lynn and Jane.