WESTFIELD, MA (WGGB/WSHM) — March is Women’s History Month and Western Mass News is celebrating local women who are breaking barriers, but not barriers on the ground.
It used to be an all-boys club, but now, women are breaking through cloud ceilings and you can learn how to fly from one of them – right in your own backyard.
“Started with one airplane and just me as an instructor and now, we’re up to five airplanes, soon to be six…112 students and I’m proud to say that about 60 percent of our students are female,” said Fredrika Ballard, founder of Fly Lugu Training.
After realizing there were no active flight schools in the area, Ballard founded Fly Lugu at Barnes, the very same location where she flew solo for the first time at age 16.
“That was probably the best moment of my life as far as aviation,” Ballard noted.
She measures her success by the success of her students.
“When I have a student that achieves their rating, you know, whether it’s their commercial rating, private pilot, instrument rating…just being able to help them get through and hit their next goal is really rewarding for me,” Ballard explained.
Part of their mission is reducing gender bias. It’s something Shannon Small, a captain for NetJets, told Western Mass News she knows all too well.
“Of all the airlines in the United States, 1.47 percent are female captains,” Small said.
In addition, only five percent are pilots. The challenges include motherhood, but it just means that nighttime routines look a bit different.
“I’ve been with a female colleague and we’re zooming across the sky at 41,000 feet. We facetimed her kids and sang, you know…nighttime and bedtime stories to them. We read books, you know. You have to do it differently, yes, but it’s still parenting,” Small added.
Her last name may be Small, but her accomplishments are anything but that. She grew up in aviation and also soloed for the first time at age 16.
Right now, Fly Lugu teaches you how to navigate through the sky and on the ground, but soon, they’ll be landing on other surfaces as well”
“We’ll be adding sea planes to our list of instruction and activities that we can teach here,” Ballard added.
Lugu, which stands for ‘Look Up Go Up’, continues doing what they can to close the gap.
“Just remember: sky’s the limit…never stop looking up,” Small noted.