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Inspirational pilot Jessica Cox pursuing third class medical and four-seat aircraft

Cox and her husband Patrick Chamberlain said that building an airplane from the ground up to address her special needs would “dial down the difficulty of flying” and help pave the way for others with physical limitations.

Cox, who was born without arms but tirelessly pursued aviation, told attendees at a seminar on the AOPA campus that her “next chapter is an exciting one. I’m going to go the route of a third class medical.” She said she “just received word that I could apply for a statement of demonstrated ability.” If granted, the SODA would allow Cox to fly other aircraft with similar modifications.

Cox and Chamberlain predicted that the aircraft build project could “serve as a role model for other pilots with disabilities to explore or inspire new ideas.” Two universities are challenging their students to come up with designs for flight and engine controls that could be implemented. Chamberlain said a team of professional engineers has also committed to helping Cox ensure the safety of any modifications.

Cox’s current aircraft platform was designed in the 1940s and is adequate for brief flights before she tires because she manipulates the Ercoupe’s conventional “pretzel” yoke and throttle solely with her feet and toes. “She has to hold her legs crisscrossed up in the air in an already cramped cockpit in order to reach the controls,” Chamberlain explained. She can safely hold that position for 30 to 45 minutes and would like to fly farther in a general aviation aircraft so she can continue to inspire others with her story of perseverance.

Pilot Jessica Cox, who was born without arms and flies an Ercoupe with integrated aileron and rudder controls, demonstrates her technique for flying the aircraft with her toes during a stop at AOPA headquarters in Frederick, Maryland in 2020. Photo by David Tulis.In 2020, Cox and Chamberlain drew attention to the thirtieth anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act by bringing the Ercoupe east for demonstration flights near Washington, D.C. It took a professional ferry pilot four days to fly the small aircraft from Tucson, Arizona, to Frederick, Maryland. She flew retired Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), who celebrated his landmark bill with “the most fun” event during a weekend of celebrations, AOPA previously reported.

“A quick, IFR airplane like an RV–10 could complete a trip like that in a much shorter period of time and allow Jessica to visit multiple locations in rapid succession,” Chamberlain explained.

A more capable aircraft could also open the door for Cox to fly herself from her home base at Ryan Field in Tucson for inspirational talks via Rightfooted Foundation International, the nonprofit that supports her speeches, appearances, and encouragement to others facing physical challenges.

Cox was optimistic that that her accomplishments as a pilot and as an advocate for others who are physically challenged can be “turned into a megaphone to articulate the ongoing issues and struggles of the disability community.”

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