By Christopher J. Chaves,
Instructor of Aviation Maintenance Technology, WTA.
WESTFIELD – When the Coronavirus pandemic forced his school to close for the summer, Westfield Technical Academy Aviation student Zachary Fedora took his studies to the sky to pursue his passion for aviation.
Flying with his father Kenneth Fedora, a rated pilot and retired A-10 instructor pilot, in the family’s Citabria, a tandem-seat aerobatic airplane, Zack Fedora gets the full experience.
“When I fly with my dad, we’ll map a flight plan to figure out what I need to do and what I need to learn before we go. Some days we will fly up to an airport in Orange, sometimes to an airport in Turners Falls, and sometimes up to Northampton or over to Montgomery, or just here at Barnes. We do everything from scheduling flights, to weight and balance, to radio calls. It’s really a lot of fun for me,” Fedora said.
Fedora is working towards his goal of earning a Private Pilot’s license from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), and so his flights are designed to give him as much exposure to airmanship as possible.
“We practice keeping the aircraft straight and level, looking for traffic, coordinated turning, making sure we’re only losing or gaining altitude only when we want to, keeping track of our fuel, making sure we don’t hit birds, pretty standard stuff. We also do wind correction, turns around a point, S-turns, stalls, that kinda stuff too. General aviation skills,” he said.
Fedora, who will be a sophomore at WTA, is studying Aviation Maintenance Technology where he is working towards earning an Airframe Maintenance Technician (AMT) License from the FAA, something he admits to missing “a lot.”
Despite not being able to go back to school, when asked how Covid-19 has affected him, Fedora said he is pretty lucky, “Coronavirus hasn’t affected me in a major way really because of my dad and his plane, but most people, due to coronavirus, haven’t been able to fly nearly as often so we’ve had the chance to fly really often and that has benefitted me, but it is kinda just sad to see an open, empty runway because this place is usually buzzin.”
Although he downplays his initiative, Fedora’s clear passion for aviation has kept him flying, and it’s a passion he says was inspired by his childhood. “A large part was my dad. When I was growing up he was in the Air National Guard, so he was always planes, planes, planes, and whenever there was an airshow I was always there. I just grew up around it and I still love it today”
Fedora is doing a lot to prepare himself for wherever life takes him, but where exactly he is going, he hasn’t quite decided yet.
“I don’t know where I want these experiences to take me, and it depends on the next three years. I probably want to go into the Air National Guard right out of high school so I can get my A&P, pay for college, go to college, fly jets for the Guard, get a side job, live life happily ever after. But with my A&P license, I can also go to Bombardier and work as an A&P technician, or I can become a private pilot. I can become almost anything in the aviation industry that I want to, so it all depends on the next few years for me,” Fedora said.
So where is all this passion and preparation for aviation going to take him? Fedora would say the sky’s the limit, but it’s not his primary focus right now.
“For me, there is no end-goal, per se. I want to get my private pilot license, I want to be able to fly for the military, and I want to be able to fly for a big airliner or shipping company like FedEx or UPS for a job later in life. For now, it’s just, get the pilot’s license and have fun,” he said.
Fedora’s father couldn’t agree more. “I’m happy about Zack’s involvement with Aviation because I think it’s a great career field, but we’ve always left it up to him, we’ve never pressured him into doing anything he doesn’t want to do. This was a last-minute choice on his part, it wasn’t a pre-planned thing, but it worked out great. He’s motivated with it, he’s embracing it, and if it turns out to be something that he doesn’t want to do, that’s fine too,” said Kenneth Fedora. It’s a lesson that he learned well through his career path in aviation, which, like his son’s, started with a passion early on in his life.
“I grew up at the trailer park here at the south end of the runway and the Guard was flying F-100’s back in the day. At 5, 6 years old, I used to ride my bike out to the end of the runway to the south de-arm area and wave to all the pilots and watch the airplanes take off and land, it was pretty cool. You know, there were no fences back then. I just sat in a strawberry patch eating strawberries and watching the airplanes take off and land, it was really cool,” Kenneth Fedora said.
He said Zack’s decision to learn a trade while also taking standard academic courses mirrors the beginnings of his own career path. “I went to Westfield Vocational High School at the time before it was Westfield Technical Academy, and I did the exploratory program, but back then it was really small. I ended up doing carpentry, graduated with my carpentry certificate, class president in 1988, and when I graduated I wanted to go to college so I went to Springfield Technical Community College with a transfer compact to UMass Amherst. I worked for Westfield Woodworking to pay for flying lessons because you couldn’t afford them otherwise back then. I started blowing off differential equations in Calculus to go fly on nice days to get my license so I said, `you know what, I’m going to change my major.’ So I quit that, transferred all my credits to Bridgewater State, and did my major in Aviation Science and graduated with my Commercial rating, Instrument rating, CFI, and a Bachelor of Science degree. I did it all with the help of the guard because I was prior enlisted for about seven years before I got my commission, so that tuition-waiver program also helped me,” Kenneth Fedora said.
When asked what he would say to kids considering a career in aviation, he responded thoughtfully. “It’s hard for kids at 13, 14 years old to decide what they want to do for the rest of your life, right? So, what I would recommend is going through the exploratory program if it’s something that they think they would like and trying it out. If they get more than halfway through it, stick it out! Get the piece of paper, and then even if you don’t use it at least it’s an accomplishment and it’s something you can use to forward yourself in life. Whether it’s studying Aviation or anything else at WTA, doing something like that with your hands, you know, something physical like that, is so much more rewarding than just sitting in an office cubicle. So I always try to encourage people to find something that gets you out and about, but, most importantly, find something you like to do, because if you do something you love, then you don’t work a day in your life, you know? You just turn your hobby into something you can make a living at. You don’t have to be rich, you just have to be happy,” said Kenneth Fedora.
Christopher Chaves is a new Aviation teacher at Westfield Technical Academy. His experience is primarily with F-15s as a member of the 104th Fighter Wing, although he has experience with general aviation (GA) aircraft. He is also an FAA certified pilot. Chris also spent several years as an English teacher for the Springfield school department. “Chris is wonderful with his students, truly an asset to the Westfield school district,” said AMT Department Head Galen Wilson.