Geoffrey S.M. Hedrick, Avionics Innovator and Entrepreneur, Dies at 79

Feb. 10, 2022

Feb. 10—Geoffrey S.M. Hedrick, 79, formerly of Malvern, the founder, chairman, and CEO of Innovative Solutions & Support Inc., the owner of nearly 100 patents on avionic innovations, and a longtime award-winning engineer, died Wednesday, Jan. 12, of COVID pneumonia at the Cleveland Clinic Indian River Hospital in Vero Beach, Fla.

Mr. Hedrick founded Innovative Solutions & Support in Exton in 1988, and it became a leader in designing and manufacturing flight guidance and cockpit display systems for airplanes. From 2004 to 2006, the company retrofitted more than 5,000 airplane cockpits, Mr. Hedrick told The Inquirer in 2006.

One colleague said: "Anyone who has flown on a commercial airliner is likely to have benefited from one of Geoff's innovations."

Mr. Hedrick told The Inquirer that the company's name describes what it does. "Provide innovative solutions to technical problems," he said. Then he added: "You've got to provide support, and I said, 'Damn it, we'll put that in the name of the company, too.'"

He was especially proud that the firm performed its own engineering, software testing, and manufacturing. "We call thinking outside the box 'thinking,'" he said. "We expect innovation."

Mr. Hedrick's latest innovation was the ThrustSense autothrottle, which, among other things, prevents small planes from flipping over during engine failure on takeoff. Flying magazine gave him and the company a 2021 Editors' Choice Award for the autothrottle's development, writing that it is "a remarkable improvement" and that its safety value to pilots and passengers "cannot be undersold."

"We will miss the creativity, keen intellect and leadership Geoff has shown over the past several decades," Glen R. Bressner, vice chairman of the company's board of directors, said in a statement.

Earlier, in 1971, Mr. Hedrick cofounded Harowe Systems Inc., an avionics company in West Chester. He sold that business to England's Smiths Industries, now Smiths Group, in 1978 and served for nearly a decade in Malvern as president and CEO of the company's North American unit.

Born April 21, 1942, in Brooklyn, Mr. Hedrick grew up in Larchmont, N.Y. He got his private pilot's license at 16, graduated from Trinity School in Manhattan, and earned a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering at Cornell University in 1965.

Considering a career in law, he was involved in a serious car accident in New Mexico after college and was hospitalized in Albuquerque for 4 1/2 months. Inspired by the dedication and selflessness of his medical caregivers — and rekindling his interest in flying and innovation — he gave up the law and redirected his career to improving aviation electronics.

"He loved to learn precisely how and why things worked as well as share his answers with others," his family said in a tribute.

Mr. Hedrick served on the board of Cornell's school of electrical engineering and endowed the position of the Geoffrey S.M. Hedrick Senior Professor of Engineering at Cornell. He also donated an MRI machine to the hospital at which he recovered from his injuries in New Mexico.

He married Cynthia Evans and had daughter Stephanie. After a divorce and the subsequent death of his former wife, he raised his daughter as a single father and perfected the art of ponytails. He took his daughter skeet shooting and skiing and was often the only father on her school's field trips.

"I was always his priority," his daughter said. "No matter where he was or what he was doing, he would come home for dinner every night."

He met Susan Donnelly in Wayne, and they married in 1989. "He was very honorable," his wife said. "He made everything seem effortless and never promoted himself."

When he wasn't working, Mr. Hedrick liked to drive fast cars, ski, and play polo. He often lost himself in the music of the Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia and knew how to use every pot, pan, skillet, and utensil in his kitchen.

He watched football, played a little tennis, and became interested in soccer when his grandchildren began to compete. He liked to sneak away from the opera house with his wife to find a hot dog stand, and they often fell asleep at night holding hands.

He was, his family said, everybody's "big brother, motivator, second father, and hero."

In addition to his wife and daughter, Mr. Hedrick is survived by two grandchildren and other relatives. Two brothers died earlier.

A celebration of life is to be held later.

Donations in his name may be made to the Tunnel to Towers Foundation, 2361 Hylan Blvd., Staten Island, N.Y. 10306, and the Wounded Warrior Project, 4899 Belfort Rd., Suite 300, Jacksonville, Fla. 32256.


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