Friends of Vocational Technical & Agricultural Education,
I trust you recall that on January 14th a small-plane crash occurred in western Massachusetts resulting in the death of all three aboard. The death of Fredrika Ballard, who served on the Aviation Advisory Board at Westfield Technical Academy, had a profound impact on the staff and students in Westfield’s aviation program. I think you will find the story touching.
We extend our deepest sympathies to the families who lost their loved ones.
Westfield Tech’s aviation shop pays tribute to flight teacher who died in crash
WTA Aviation program pays tribute to Fredrika Ballard
Published: Jan. 19, 2024, 2:45 p.m.
Amy Porter | The Westfield News | aporter
Galen Wilson, the aviation department head at Westfield Technical Academy, said this week that the loss of Fredrika Ballard, owner of Fly Lugu and Aero Design Aircraft Services at Westfield-Barnes Regional Airport, hit the program and his students especially hard.
Ballard, a Southwick resident who died in a small-plane crash Jan. 14, along with a student and fellow instructor, also served on the Aviation Advisory Board at WTA.
Wilson spoke to Superintendent Stefan Czaporowski about paying tribute to Ballard in some way. Czaporowski said he also wanted to pay tribute to Ballard, who he said was an inspiration to many of the young women in Westfield’s aviation program. He said she interacted with the students at the hangar at Barnes on a regular basis and taught some of the students how to fly.
“I talked to her quite a few times. I was always impressed with her energy and enthusiasm. She was always willing to help out if we had an idea or a project that we wanted to do. I just loved her energy,” Czaporowski said. “I want to pay tribute to her for her efforts to help our program succeed.”
The aviation department has created a metal plaque from a photograph of Ballard flying in the sunset, taken by aviation maintenance instructor and student pilot Scott Hepburn, which was displayed during Ballard’s funeral services. The plaque reads: “The sky isn’t your limit.”
Wilson had a lot to say about Ballard’s impact on the aviation program at WTA. “I’ve known her as Rika — a lot of her friends do,” he said. He said he first met her back in 2016 while she was pursuing her private pilot’s license, and the program at the school had just completed its first year and was in the process of becoming certified by the FAA.
“She was taking lessons with Air 1 Flight School at the time. I could tell immediately upon meeting her, from her big smile and so much energy, I could tell her future was in aviation.” Wilson said.
“A lot of people show an interest in aviation. There are people that like it, and there are people that love it. Rika loved it — she had the passion,” he added. He said he remembers her telling him when they first met that she flew with her father a lot during childhood, and had logged many hours, but had never gotten her license, and always wished she had.
Ken Dromgold, who owned Air 1 Flight Training, was on the WTA Aviation Advisory Board. “I would talk to him, and there was Rika pursuing her passion. We just hit it off. When Rika would walk into a room, it would just light up,” Wilson said. Ballard started Fly Lugu, which Wilson said is an acronym for “Look Up, Go Up,” which her husband Joe Ballard helped her to run.
“They did everything together,” Wilson said. She also bought Aero Design Maintenance Facility and joined the WTA Advisory Board.
“I could always depend on her. She would walk into the advisory board meeting and the room would light up. She also had great ideas — value-added ideas, that were always about the students, scholarships, and internships,” Wilson said, adding that she would always tell him, “if you need anything, you can borrow the equipment.”
Wilson said for Ballard, it was always about the students.
“She loved the graduations. She would always go out there and be a part of it,” he said. He said Ballard would also help students get their pilot’s licenses and would direct them towards scholarships and internships. He said there were several occasions where she hired students to work on airplanes, inspecting them, repairing them, and doing modifications on all types of aircrafts. “She would bring the students in,” he said.
“She loved guiding them into an aviation career. She would talk to the freshmen before they decided what program to go into, and sell the program,” he said, telling them, “If you’re thinking about aviation, this is where you need to be.” Wilson said Ballard took a particular interest in getting girls into aviation.
“This year our freshmen class is seven males and seven females. Rika is one who helped with that. She would tell the girls, ‘this is not a boys’ club.’”
Wilson said he himself has been struggling with the events of the past week.
“It’s such a horrible thing — I would see her weekly. She would drive through the airport gate on her way to AeroDesign to check in, then she would pass by our hangar and would always stop and listen to everything that was going on.”
“She was awesome, just a delight to talk to. I had so much respect for her in creating Lugu and keeping Aero Design going. I always called her our ‘ambassador to general aviation and aviation education.’ She will be sorely missed.”
Wilson said he also knew Bill Hampton, the multi-engine instructor with almost 14,000 hours of flying, who also died in the Jan. 14 crash on the Greenfield-Leyden line, along with student pilot Chad Davidson. “Bill was a fantastic pilot. I don’t know what specifically happened up there, but it had to be something that went horribly wrong. As a pilot, I don’t speculate, I wait for the facts. They were all pilots. At a professional level, we just do not speculate,” he said.
Wilson said his students have been struggling, in particular the girls in the class.
“We’ve had a lot of conversations, many conversations,” he said. He said he tells them that he is a pilot, and he is going to continue flying. “It’s my passion — it’s what we do.”
Wilson said 90% of the students are doing fine. “Like always, there’s that 10% that are struggling a little bit. What we were running into is that Fredrika had such an impact on some of the students there, especially the females. As a result, they seemed to take it the hardest. The females in the aviation class were really hurt.”
In response, this week, Westfield Technical Academy interim Principal Bruce Hastings contacted a friend of his at the Air National Guard 104th Fighter Wing, Capt. Allen Magdycz, who owns Boomer, a therapy dog assigned to the fighter wing at Barnes. Wilson said with a little coordination, they got Boomer into the classroom, accompanied by Magdycz and Senior Master Sgt. Sarah Jacobsen.
“What’s interesting is that the girls went right to him. It was good to see, and now we have smiles because he’s such a friendly dog. For that moment in time, it helped. We’re very grateful to the captain for bringing over Boomer,” Wilson said.
“It’s not just Westfield Technical Academy. Rika had over 150 students that are seeking variant levels of their pilot’s license certification, whatever their aspiration is. It’s all of Westfield Public Schools and beyond. Many high school students are seeking their private pilot’s license,” he said.
“She was just an inspiration — an absolute inspiration. I introduced all of my students to her, male and female. She will be sorely missed,” Wilson said.
David J. Ferreira
MAVA Communications Coordinator