First Pilot with no Arms Takes to the Skies

When Jessica Cox, 36, was born without arms due to a rare birth defect, her parents wondered what life would be like for her. With determination and a thirst for success, Cox has defied all of the odds and has become the first armless licensed pilot in the world. She flies her plane not using prosthetic arms but with her feet.

At the age of 10, Cox enrolled in her first taekwondo class and earned her black belt just four years later. It was at the age of 14 that she decided that she would no longer use her prosthetic arms but would instead use her feet. During college, she restarted her taekwondo training in order to inspire other armless individuals. She earned her second- and third-degree black belts from the American Taekwondo Association during that time.

After graduating from the University of Arizona in 2005 with a bachelor’s in psychology, she realized that success can be addictive. Cox went on to become a licensed scuba diver and a rock climber with a custom-designed harness. She puts in and removes her own contact lenses, drives an unmodified vehicle with an unrestricted license, pumps her own gas and types on a keyboard at 25 words per minute. In 2014, she participated in a 40-mile section of “El Tour de Tucson,” a cycling race held annually in Arizona. She is a motivational speaker who has spoken to various groups in over 20 countries.

When she decided she wanted to learn to fly, Cox realized that she would have to find the right plane in order to navigate with her feet. After trying three different planes, she settled on the Ercoupe. The ERCO 415-C Ercoupe was designed in the 1940s without rudder pedals. Instead of pedals, the rudder interconnects through the yoke to the ailerons. This design allows Cox to use one foot to control the yoke of the plane while the other controls the throttle.

Through her speaking engagements and her autobiographical self-help book, “Disarm Your Limits,” Cox hopes to reach out to others to spread the message in what she terms as “possible thinking.” She encourages others to achieve their personal dreams, no matter their ability or situation, by believing that all things are possible. For Cox, she proves this to be true as she achieves her goals one at a time.