Aviation Ceremony 2023

As Westfield Technical Academy aviation maintenance technology department chair Galen Wilson introduced the Class of 2023 students on May 25 at Hangar 2 in Westfield-Barnes Regional Airport, he talked about how proud he was of them, the fifth graduating class of aviation students.

“Another great year, another great class. This is my ninth year as an aviation instructor and educator and it keeps getting better,” Wilson said, adding that when he retired from the Air Force after “30 years, 71 days and 13 hours as chief master sergeant,” he thought that was his legacy. Then he started teaching, and had the opportunity to start the aviation program with “a bunch of professionals,” noting in particular Superintendent Stefan Czaporowski, who he said had a vision about an aviation program long before he did.

“He brought this vision to life. He hired me and I ran with it. So now that we got this program up and running, I now believe this is my legacy. I’m extremely proud, and proud to be here,” Wilson said.

Czaporowski, in his remarks, congratulated the students by name, and announced their plans for next year. He said four of the students were in the top 10 of the entire class at Westfield Technical Academy.

Logan Avezzie, David Bulatov, Tristan Connors, Danylo Malov, Brandon Parks, Eduard Shvyryd and Jonathan Vella will attend CT AeroTech, an extension of Bristol Technical Education Center in Connecticut. Vella plans to later attend college. Wilson said Vella was the highest scoring student in the program, “and it was close.”

Zachary Fedora, David Forest and Rylie Nimchick will attend Bridgewater State University for aviation science. Angelina Krikunova and Bryce Roberts will attend the University of Hartford. Hannah Walczak will attend Springfield Technical Community College. Dominick Lincoln will enlist in the Air National Guard’s 104th Fighter Wing, based at Barnes.

Czaporowski also congratulated Parks and Shvyryd, who were the recipients of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association award of $10,000, and Fedora, who has solo piloted an airplane.

Aviation instructor Scott Hepburn, who led the Class of 2023 from ninth grade to senior year — “from the starting line to the finish line,” Wilson said — explained that CT AeroTech, an airframe and powerplant school in Enfield, is awarding 30 credits to the WTA students with airframe rating. These students can now get the powerplant rating and an associate in science degree by taking seven classes, and become a licensed airframe and powerplant mechanic one year after high school, according to Hepburn.

As a highlight of the program, Lt. Col. Peter Carr, vice commander of the 104th, spoke to the class following an ebullient introduction by Wilson, who called him “a great American.”

Before sharing words of wisdom with the class, Carr introduced himself as a Southwick High School graduate who picked tobacco at Arnold’s Farms and stocked shelves at Big Y. He said one of his jobs changed the course of his life, when he was hired to work on a yacht, and met people who were successful in their fields. He said he was challenged to go to college and joined the Air National Guard, and now 30 years later, he never left.

“Keep doing what you’re doing. Eighty-eight percent [of life] is showing up. If you don’t have a mentor, find one. You’re already way farther along than I was,” Carr said to the students, before congratulating them on behalf of the 104th.

Carr then called up Lincoln, and led him in the military oath as he joined the National Guard during the ceremony.

“The newest member of the 104th Fighter Wing. How about that!” Wilson remarked.

“I love this job. I couldn’t have a better job, ever.” Hepburn said, asking for a round of applause for the parents. “You have the best young adults anyone could ask for,” he said.

Hepburn also talked about the 32 alumni of the program who were in attendance for the ceremony and for “the first of many” five-year reunions. He said he always wondered how he could prove that what he said to his students was true.

“These are my receipts, alumni, all moving in the right direction — proof that you can do a lot, ”Hepburn said.

He then called several of the alumni to speak to the students, among them 2022 graduate Dacota Durkee, who is getting a degree in finances at American International College, and will work at MassMutual; Nick Moran, 2021 graduate, who is in the 104th Fighter Wing as a phase crew chief, completing inspection on the F-15; and Lidia Bazukin, 2020, who is an aircraft mechanic at Gulfsteam, and is getting her pilot’s license. She said there are nine students from WTA at Gulfstream, who she loves to see there.

Also speaking was Nathaniel Spiller, from the first graduating class in 2019.

“They put this program on the map,” Hepburn said, adding that the hangar looked nothing then like it does now, thanks in part to the work the class put into it.

Spiller is a pilot with Piedmont Airlines, a division of American Airlines, based in Philadelphia. He said entering his senior year as a “Flying Tiger,” he started flight training in March of that year.

“I owe my entire career to Westfield Technical Academy. Because of this, I was able to take my career and run with it, all while doing what I love,” he said.

“I just showed you four positive paths for aviation,” Hepburn said. Later, Hepburn said his son, Scott Hepburn, also a WTA graduate, surprised him that same day by testing for his powerplant license at Haney Technical School in Panama City, Florida, and is now an FAA-certified airframe and powerplant mechanic at 18 years old.

Hepburn said his son is “one of the few who has done that at such a young age. It usually takes two years after high school to complete. Westfield Technical Academy’s aviation program’s put him two years ahead of anyone else going into the field.”

Mayor Michael McCabe also congratulated the seniors, and awarded them commendations from the city of Westfield.

In his remarks, Czaporowski talked about the passion and dedication in the people he knows in the field of aviation.

“With more than 1,300 airlines that operate almost 32,000 aircraft at 3,759 airports, it’s hard to overstate the impact of aviation, and it’s never going away,” he said.

Czaporowski also talked about the crippling shortages expected over the next 20 years, which he said according to a report by Boeing, the aviation giant, is expected to be “a staggering demand of more than 637,000 employees by 2036.”

“It is hard to believe that this is already the fifth class to graduate from the aviation program. Time really does fly,” Czaporowski said, reminding the students not to go to bed too late, as nine of them were scheduled to take their FAA airframe test the following day.

“You make us all proud! Congratulations and good luck,” Czaporowski said.