Jessica Cox, a pilot born without arms, will partner with Van’s Aircraft to design an airplane that can be operated using only your feet, it was announced last week.
“We are going to design a custom, retrofitted RV-10 to be flown with feet,” Cox said.
Greg Hughes, Van’s vice president and COO, says his company is up for the challenge.
“We’re truly excited to be part of this new journey,” Hughes said. “Van’s aircraft has a history of helping others in doing some, what’s often called, alternative controls for aircraft.”
Cox gained a Guinness World Record in 2008 when she became the first person to earn a pilot certificate while flying an Ercoupe only with her feet. She now owns her own Ercoupe, named Jesse Cab, because it looks like a taxicab.
While Cox likes the Ercoupe, the position in which she has to fly it in—with her right foot on the yoke and her left foot on the throttle—is painfully uncomfortable for her.
Cox likened it to doing a crunch at the gym.
“It’s pretty tough and it’s really draining to be in that position for so long. I get a charley horse and my foot falls asleep, and oftentimes I get cramps in my legs,” she said.
As a result, her journeys are limited to an hour and a half of flight time. Also, the Ercoupe has been out of production for more than 50 years. That makes it difficult for Cox to find parts. After visiting EAA AirVenture, Cox had to leave the airplane in Oshkosh because of maintenance issues.
Cox said her Ercoupe cruises at about 90 mph, so it’s a challenge to get from her home in Tucson, Arizona to Oshkosh, Wisconsin—a straight line distance of nearly 1,300 nm.
“It took us two weeks to the day to land in the state of Wisconsin,” Cox said.
She had help from Lindsey Laukaitis, a pilot from her local Women in Aviation International chapter. Still, Cox dreams of piloting herself to Oshkosh for AirVenture one year.
During this year’s trip, Cox stopped at Pinckneyville-Du Quoin Airport (KPJY) in Pinckneyville, Illinois, to visit with children from Camp Mobility, a sports camp attended by about 200 children who were born with or have lost limbs.
Through her non-profit organization, Rightfooted Foundation International, Cox hopes to continue to inspire children with disabilities to realize that there’s nothing that they can’t do. She hopes this new airplane she’s helping to design will help relay that message.
“The mission is to inspire more children not only in the US but around the world,” Cox said. “We need something faster so that we can reach more children with more efficiency.”
And, just as important as increased speed, the new airplane will help Cox fly more comfortably for a longer period of time.
“With this future design, it will allow me to be in a resting position with my legs on the floor of the airplane and it will allow me to be able to do longer distances, be able to inspire more children and, most importantly, get that message out there that ‘believe you can fly’ to all the children, the next generation of pilots and to all those with disabilities who have been told countlessly that they can’t,” she said.
Patrick Chamberlain, Cox’s husband, said he and his wife hope to design a four-seat airplane so that children and other passengers can come along and observe Cox at the controls. She plans to get a third-class medical with a SODA to allow her to upgrade from the Sport Pilot Certificate to a Private Pilot License.
“We’re going to need help from the aviation community for this project,” Chamberlain said. They’re not just looking for financial donations, but also what he called “idea donations” to help make the systems as great as they can possibly be.
The couple is being realistic about the time it might take to get the RV-10 ready for Cox to fly and they have named it Project 2025.
“Our company is in the business of making dreams come true,” Hughes said. “We’ve all loved following [Jessica’s] story up to date and we’re really super excited and feel really privileged to be a part of the next chapter.”