Fly Lugu

Look up, go up!

Fly Lugu owner Fredrika Ballard was able to fly an airplane unassisted before she was old enough to drive a car. “I grew up flying. It was just something we did as a family, and I loved it,” this second-generation pilot said, recalling long-ago daytrips to destinations such as Martha’s Vinyard with her father, Richard Hamann, at the controls.

“Just being up in the sky clears my head and resets me after a bad day,” Ballard said. “I love the freedom. For me, there’s nothing that’s more thrilling than taking off and leaving the earth.”

Despite her passion for the sky, Ballard took a 25-year break from flying to focus on college, kids, and a demanding career as a surgical center administrator. In 2016, “I paid my son’s last tuition bill and I came to Barnes the next day,” she said, calling Westfield’s unsung airport “a gem.” With a yen for flight still strong in her soul, Ballard updated her credentials, earned her instructor’s license, and left the tarmac behind.

“I didn’t start out thinking I would have a big flight school,” said Ballard, who founded Fly Lugu in November of 2019. But quickly, she said, “I had so many students I was flying from sunrise to sunset. It became clear there was a big need.”

Today, Fly Lugu has 112 students. Thanks to Ballard as a welcoming role model, 50% of those students are female, even though women represent only 7% of pilots nationwide. Ballard’s youngest student is 12-year-old Cali Keenan, a “natural” who landed on her first lesson. Her oldest student is octogenarian Michael Silvestri, who visits Fly Lugu for his biennial flight reviews. Others include high school students, adults using the “pandemic pause” to finish training begun decades ago; even an executive/mom whose 18-month-old son became the school’s youngest passenger.

Some of these fledgling flyers hope to buy or lease a plane with friends so they can wing off for hiking, skiing, or dining expeditions. “Other people are looking for a career track,” Ballard said. Serving either need, Fly Lugu offers structured courses in ground knowledge, private pilot licensure, instrument rating, and commercial rating.

“It doesn’t end once you have your pilot’s license. There’s always something new to learn,” Ballard said, describing yet another aspect of flight that keeps her enthralled. New technologies, advanced techniques, clinics, videos, and continuing education through flight associations constantly inspire those with adventurous spirits and a love for learning to keep their goals high.

Actually, that’s one reason the school’s name is so fitting. “L-U-G-U is an acronym for Look Up, Go Up,” Ballard said. “In flying, when you pull the yoke towards you, the plane goes up, but if you’re looking down to the ground, you’re going to subconsciously push that yoke down and you’ll go down.” Ballard’s father, who had been a popular Southwick and WSU educator, used LUGU as a metaphor for life. When she faced the normal turbulence of growing up, Hamann would tell her, “Chin up. Look up. We’re not looking down.”

It's a mantra Ballard is proud to pass to her students.

A Wright Flight instructor and a Westfield Technical Academy board member, Ballard uses her love of flying to show local youth that, in all aspects of life, the sky’s the limit. “The younger generation? They’re the difference makers,” she said. “If I can do my small part to help them attain their goals, that’s very rewarding for me.”

Pull quote: Today, Fly Lugu has 112 students. Thanks to Ballard as a welcoming role model, 50% of those students are female, even though women represent only 7% of pilots nationwide.

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