My hometown, Tucson, is known in aviation as one of the best aircraft museums in the country. It is also home to the infamous boneyard, a massive collection of mothballed military aircraft. An area just north of Eloy is a paradise for parachuting. In Southern Arizona, I did my flight training, first flew solo, and finally passed my sport pilot check ride.
You may not know that Tucson is home to one of the oldest rodeos in America and the longest non-motorized parade in the world. The Tucson Rodeo Parade has been happening for 98 years, and they invited me to be the Grand Marshal on February 23. How could I accept the invitation without finding a way to include aviation?
The parade is supposed to be non-motorized, but I knew there had to be a way to share the love of aviation with my hometown community. With the event attracting over 170,000 spectators, it would be a shame not to spread the flying bug!
My ERCO Ercoupe is undergoing repair, and we’re still assembling The Impossible Airplane RV-10. But something was waiting in the wings that might just work: a wrecked RV-10 fuselage.
This RV-10 fuselage is the test bed for The Impossible Airplane modifications. We plan to turn it into a simulator for my testing and training. We even plan to make it available to the general public so everyone can try flying as I do. It will be a way for anyone to experience bipedal flight! It may even inspire inclusive engineering through the experience of a new way of flying.
We are loading this formerly wrecked fuselage (don’t worry, the pilots walked away from the crash) onto a 1900s wagon towards the end of February. I’ll be honest; we still might not make it. The Pima Community College Aviation Technology Department took on the daunting challenge of rehabilitating the sheet metal damage. And they only have a month to do it! I’m grateful for their help because we could never do this alone.
The best parts of this endeavor are the float riders accompanying the vessel. In case folks don’t recognize it as a fuselage of an airplane (the tail, wings, and nose are no longer attached), there are going to be nine children with limb differences dressed in flight suits.
I feel incredibly passionate about this. Growing up with a limb difference, a lot of effort was made to hide that difference. I cannot remember participating in any activity as a child that brought attention to celebrating my difference. I remember being in parades—the first time wearing prosthetic limbs, and the second time wearing a long sleeve jacket to cover up my armlessness.
When the society you grow up in puts so much emphasis on being normal, on babies being born with 10 fingers and 10 toes, or when employers refuse to accommodate a disability, it creates a sense of shame that’s hard for the most confident adult to overcome, let alone a child.
So many people with disabilities feel like being different is their fault. In reality, disability is part of what makes all of us human. According to the WHO, 20 percent of people will experience a disability at some point in their lifetime. That’s over 1 billion people!
As our float joins the parade, these children with limb differences can see me, someone who looks like them, celebrating what makes her different in front of thousands of people. I hope the experience encourages them to see that they shouldn’t hide and be ashamed of what makes them different. All thanks to an airplane pulled two and a half miles by a team of horses!
If you’re in the southwest, come to the parade on the morning of February 23. If you want to support my nonprofit, either directly to help kids with limb differences or via The Impossible Airplane build, you can make a tax-deductible donation here.
I look forward to sharing more stories with you. If you have suggestions for article topics or questions you’d like me to answer, send me an email at [email protected] or visit www.jessicacox.com.