I wanted to be an airline pilot since I was young, and began reading as much as I could about flying from age 10. I largely credit my father, Dr. James Hedges, an English Professor, for kindling my love of reading. Books about planes filled my youth. I started taking flying lessons at the age of 14, and the next year met a teacher who would be transformative in my life. Dr. John Kiser was my English teacher through high school and taught me the love of writing. Along the way I became a pilot in the US Air Force, and later started an airline career. I’ve been fortunate to fly a wide variety of aircraft, and found that not only did I like flying, I liked teaching as well.
Although I enjoy the technical challenges of flying, the cerebral challenges of writing, and the human factors challenges involved in teaching a very demanding and complex subject, I wanted to write about the overarching theme of aviation safety. There are many excellent aviation safety books out there, but many dwell on technical esoterica to the extent that only industry insiders would delve into them. At the other end of the market are innumerable books about plane crashes that often contain generalizations and inaccuracies limiting professional usefulness. I wanted to write a book that could distill complexities to core principles and provide concrete and comprehensible examples to a wide variety of people, from industry insiders to students seeking their professional niche.
During a furlough from my airline, I worked as a manager in the chemical manufacturing business (my undergraduate degree was in biology and the company made reagents primarily for biological research). I quickly learned the field and was especially attracted to chemical processing safety, which ran parallel to my longtime interest in aviation safety. The giant of the field was Dr. Trevor Kletz, for decades Britain’s foremost expert on chemical engineering safety. He wrote the most interesting and enlightening books in the field, and to this day when someone asks me who my favorite author is I reply “Trevor Kletz” without hesitation. I was fortunate enough to briefly correspond with him, and he was very encouraging about writing about industrial safety and teaching useful and applicable lessons in a literate but interesting way. Although he passed away during the writing of this book, I hope he would be pleased with the direction the project took.
The stars aligned for the book itself when I met Dr. George Bibel at a presentation about his first book, Beyond the Black Box, and the idea for a joint book about aviation accidents was born. It was a golden opportunity for me to be able to write about my loves of aviation and industrial safety with a backdrop of accidents selected by an experienced engineer. George’s strong point is explaining complex engineering issues in a comprehensible way, and I relished in the chance to discuss the challenging world of professional flying, and deal with not only technical details, but also human factors, procedural, and training issues in an interesting way that can appeal to wide variety of readers.
Robert Hedges is a Captain, line check airman, and instructor at a major US airline. He is a former US Air Force pilot and instructor, and has served as an FAA Designated Pilot Examiner. He has nearly 30 years of experience in the cockpit, and has taught aviation safety at universities and airlines around the world. He is coauthor of Plane Crash: The Forensics of Aviation Disasters