The Malone Col­umn

Pilot - - CONTENTS - Pat­malone Pat has worked as a jour­nal­ist on three con­ti­nents and is a fixed-wing pi­lot and for­mer he­li­copter in­struc­tor with 1,500 hours TT

Dis­abil­ity needn't stop peo­ple fly­ing but try it with­out arms...

As an avi­a­tion jour­nal­ist I’ve been priv­i­leged to meet many great pi­lots – men and women who have made his­tory, set fine records, flown to the Moon, ac­com­plished ex­cep­tional feats of brav­ery and skill; all are in my per­sonal pan­theon of he­roes. But no pi­lot has ever in­spired me more than Jessica Cox.

Jessica is 35 years old and, although she has only 200 hours to­tal time, she is recog­nised as a Guin­ness world record holder be­cause she was born with­out arms, and she flies an un­mod­i­fied air­craft solo, with her feet. If you want to un­der­stand what a colos­sal achieve­ment that is, try liv­ing with­out your arms for just a few min­utes. I’d starve to death be­fore I got out of the door. But Jessica ab­so­lutely re­fuses to give in to any sug­ges­tion that she has lim­its. She is a surfer and a scuba diver, a black belt (and Ari­zona state cham­pion) at taek­wondo, she and her hus­band Pa­trick live in an un­mod­i­fied house, she drives an un­mod­i­fied car, and she flies an un­mod­i­fied aero­plane.

She trav­els the world as a mo­ti­va­tional speaker, en­cour­ag­ing those who find life dif­fi­cult−how­ever many limbs they have−to achieve their full po­ten­tial. Her themes are un­fash­ion­able: “We are in a culture that seeks out neg­a­tiv­ity, a culture that thrives on the vic­tim men­tal­ity, a culture that in­sists the glass is half empty,” she says. “I’ve never felt limited− why should I have lim­i­ta­tions placed upon me?

“Think about the last time you said the words ‘I can’t’. When we say ‘I can’t’, we set our­selves up for fail­ure. I have ban­ished the words ‘I can’t’ from my vo­cab­u­lary.”

Her lis­ten­ers re­act with awe. For a woman with­out arms to do the things that four-limbed peo­ple do is seen as wor­thy and com­mend­able−but here’s a girl who does some­thing most four-limbed peo­ple can­not do, and that re­ally gets their at­ten­tion. If she can do that, what’s your ex­cuse?

There isn’t enough room here to get into de­tails of Jessica’s ex­tra­or­di­nary life, but there’s heaps of stuff on­line. You can watch videos of her do­ing ev­ery­thing from putting in her con­tact lenses with her toes to fly­ing a plane with her feet, and you can get her book Dis­arm Your

Lim­its from www.jes­si­ca­cox.com, along with an in­spi­ra­tional DVD they made about her called Right Footed. I just wanted to yak with her about fly­ing, and Jessica, who has granted au­di­ences to every­one from Obama to the Pope, agreed to re­ceive me in a Star­bucks near the Pima Air and Space Mu­seum (go!) in her home town of Tuc­son, Ari­zona. Over cof­fee, we talked pi­lot stuff. Her primary prob­lem is the one we all face−she’s so busy she never gets enough time to fly.

It’s a dream she had from her ear­li­est days. “I used to wish I could fly like Su­per­woman, swoop down on the play­ground and pick up a friend for a trip across the sky. But I was also fright­ened of fly­ing, partly I think be­cause if you have no arms you’re very con­scious of con­tact with the ground−you don’t want to trip up. Even now, when I put my feet up on the con­trols I have a slight feel­ing of in­sta­bil­ity, of lack of ground­ing. But you can’t let it get in your way.”

Noth­ing gets in Jessica Cox’s way. She first touched the con­trols of a small Cessna on a re­turn flight from a speak­ing en­gage­ment in Mex­ico and was later given a few fly­ing lessons. It was clear that fly­ing an un­mod­i­fied Cessna was work for a four-limbed per­son, but she had the bug and she had to find a way. In 2006 she picked up a copy of AOPA Pi­lot mag­a­zine with an Er­coupe on the cover. This is the 1930s de­sign with no ped­als− ailerons and rud­der are linked−and it of­fered her an open­ing. Jessica con­tacted the owner and trav­elled to Florida to fly his plane. But that was just the first ob­sta­cle. She had to go for an LSA li­cence, where the med­i­cal re­quire­ment is the same as for a driv­ing li­cence, but only cer­tain Er­coupes meet the LSA weight limit−she needed to find a 415C/D. Not only that, but it had to have a vernier throt­tle that was a tad lower on the panel than the Florida model−jessica flies with her right foot on the yoke, big toe on the PTT, left leg un­der her calf with toes on the throt­tle. If the throt­tle’s too high, her right leg gets in the way.

Years of search­ing yielded noth­ing. But one day, when she was dis­con­so­lately leav­ing a fly-in hav­ing drawn an­other blank, her pipe-smok­ing fa­ther fell into con­ver­sa­tion with an­other pipe-smoker who, it turned out, had a friend who owned a 1946 415C, was an in­struc­tor, and flew from San Manuel air­field, only a few miles from Tuc­son. And the throt­tle was well-placed, too. Game on.

As an in­struc­tor, this chap, Par­rish Traweek, gave no quarter−jessica had to achieve the same stan­dard as any stu­dent. She does ev­ery­thing on the walkround; fuel drain, oil check, re­fuel, with her feet. She had a prob­lem with the four-point har­ness but worked out she could buckle it, then loosen it, slide down into the har­ness and tighten the straps. When the time came for her to go solo Jessica in­vited her fam­ily and friends to watch, but Par­rish chased them all away and can­celled the de­tail−no dis­trac­tions al­lowed. She went solo next day, with­out the gallery. And in 2011, she got her li­cence. She flies when she can. Long flights are dif­fi­cult be­cause the seat­ing po­si­tion for con­trol­ling an air­craft with your feet is not no­tably re­laxed; it may in­deed be­come more oner­ous as she gets older and be­comes less sup­ple. That’s for the fu­ture. To­day Jessica gets the same joy out of fly­ing that we all do, but she makes bet­ter use of it. Her mo­ti­va­tional speak­ing draws on avi­a­tion analo­gies−lift and weight, thrust and drag, the balance you need to be suc­cess­ful in your life. I came away think­ing−hop­ing−that some of Jessica’s pos­i­tive energy had rubbed off on me. Next time I feel a bout of self-pity com­ing on, in the air or on the ground, I have a role model to snap me out of it. I’m plan­ning to dis­arm my lim­its.

Jessica was born with­out arms and flies an un­mod­i­fied air­craft solo, with her feet

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