WESTFIELD — Members of the Westfield aviation community described the late Fredrika Ballard as an inspiration, a high achiever, and a passionate advocate for aviation.

“She was an inspiration to everybody, especially the kids … the girls, especially,” said Ken Dromgold, Ballard’s former flight instructor. “She was a ray of sunshine.”

Ballard was one of three people who died in a Jan. 14 small-plane crash near Greenfield. She was 53 years old. In her life, she was the founder, president and lead instructor at Fly Lugu Flight School, which operated at Westfield-Barnes Regional Airport. She also owned AeroDesign Aircraft Services, an airplane maintenance company, which worked on Fly Lugu planes.

Ballard’s passion for aviation came from her pilot father, according to her obituary. However, she took up a job in medical practice management, and didn’t get back into it until 2016, when she took classes with Dromgold at Air 1 Flight Training. Dromgold described her as an excellent pilot who wasn’t aware of how skilled she was.

“That’s what made her special, is she could do almost anything in an airplane and make it look effortless,” he said.

He remembers her genuine investment in other people. He said if she asked you how you were doing, a one-word answer wouldn’t suffice. She could meet new people and immediately have three-hour conversations with them. She “always had time for anybody,” he said.

Barnes Manager Christopher Willenborg worked closely with Ballard after she founded her flight school in February 2020. He said he was amazed by her ability to get young people interested in an aviation career. He remembers her mentoring a young woman who graduated from Westfield Technical Academy and would eventually get a job at Gulfstream Aerospace. He remembers her face lighting up upon seeing the ex-student at work.

“It was awesome to feel that energy and smile when talking about it,” he said.

Tom Trudeau, the former owner of AeroDesign, worked with Ballard since the start, when her flight school had only one plane. She purchased the company once her school started growing, on the condition that Trudeau started working for her. He remembers her as a high achiever who did everything she set her mind to. He said she was an encouraging voice who knew how to cheer people up and help them improve themselves.

He also remembers her as an advocate for women in aviation. Ballard was a member of the Ninety-Nines International Organization of Women Pilots and was recognized as a “woman of impact” by the Springfield-based BusinessWest magazine.

“She loved everybody, but she really geared things towards women in aviation,” he said. “She was a big advocate of women pilots and women mechanics and women in general.”

He credits her with revitalizing Barnes with her school and promotion of aviation. As a member of WrightFlight, she would host tours for children and take them on flights. She was also founder of the nonprofit Friends of Barnes Airport.

All three were devastated by Ballard’s death. Dromgold said it was hard-hitting. Willenborg, who found out through a call from law enforcement, said it was shocking to him. Trudeau didn’t even believe such a thing could happen. All three agreed that a big part of the aviation community was lost that day.

“There’s no replacing Fredrika,” Dromgold said, though he added that others in the community were making sure her vision and flight school continued on. “We’re all circling the wagons and trying to do just that,” he said.

Ballard was also closely connected with the aviation program at Westfield Technical Academy, where students decided to honor her memory by creating a metal plaque based on a photograph of her in an airplane cockpit, flying toward a sunset.

Though born in Springfield, Ballard graduated from high school in Southwick and was a resident of that town. Besides aviation, she liked cycling, and traveling around the world, though she was especially fond of Martha’s Vineyard. When she was younger, she would ski in Vermont and waterski at the Otis Reservoir. She was also a member of Westfield Kiwanis club.

Ballard was one of three people who died in the plane crash, along with Bill Hampton, a fellow instructor with almost 14,000 hours of flying, and student pilot Chad Davidson. The crash is being investigated by federal aviation authorities.

Her funeral was Jan. 20 at Firtion-Adams Funeral Service in Westfield.

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