By 2015, I became a pilot, got married, traveled the world as a keynote speaker, and learned how my aviation story could make the world a better place for others. It felt like I had traded the Ercoupe for a Boeing 777. TSA employees at the Tucson airport started greeting me by name before seeing my ID. This is a sure sign you’re traveling too much.
To all those pilots who get their certificate and then wonder, “Now what?,” I get you.
After removing all the things life piled on, the joy of flying reemerged in me. That was when I found myself pursuing the online aviation marketplace Barnstormers after my local flying club, The Desert Sport Flyers, wanted to put out some feelers for another Ercoupe. It was hard because those Ercoupes that fell under the light sport aircraft umbrella were popular among the surge of new LSA pilots.
That’s when I came across N26R. It was yellow and black, the exact same color scheme as my motivational speaking company. I thought, “What are the chances of that? It looks just like my home page!” I didn’t think much of it. It was one of the nicer Ercoupes, and the price reflected that.
The next day, I thought, “Maybe I will just call the number and find out a little more about it.” I asked the usual questions and told the seller, Tim Treat, about myself. He said he had heard of me and thought I already had my own Ercoupe. I told him that I have been renting Ercoupes off and on over the past 10 years. We parted ways, and I still thought nothing more about it.
About a week later, I received a phone call from Tim. He said, “You know what? I would like to give you the Ercoupe!” I was speechless. He would give it to the nonprofit I created, Rightfooted Foundation International. At this point, it was all surreal. I can’t remember anything we talked about after that.
I found someone willing to donate an airplane—you would think it was a done deal. But as with everything in life, it turned out not to be as simple as that.
Not So Fast
I made the initial call on behalf of the Desert Sport Flyers. Yet, Tim was going to donate N26R to the foundation. And that is when the stuff hit the fan.
First, I wanted to figure out a leaseback arrangement with the club. And then there were logistics. The only way for the Ercoupe to take the trip from Nevada to Arizona was if the foundation insured it.
The initial insurance research and conversation were very encouraging and without hiccups. But when the insurance company found out who the nonprofit’s director was (me) and that Desert Sport Flyers was working on a leaseback, they rescinded their offer.
It was infuriating. The ferry pilot was leaving to pick up the Ercoupe the next day, and I was scrambling for new insurance. That was the moment I learned never to give up on the first no. Instead of chasing a dead end, moving on to another lead is better because someone else will say yes, and someone did, Falcon Insurance.
With the interim policy in hand to get the Ercoupe from Tahoe to Tucson, things seemed to be in hand (or foot). Unfortunately, when the time came for the nonprofit’s board to vote on the leaseback, it wasn’t approved, which left me to make some awkward phone calls and a responsibility to figure out where to keep it.
Thankfully, those things came together well.
I had wanted my own airplane for so long, and now I had one. What do I do with it?
Fly it, of course.
Under the ownership of the nonprofit, the airplane has to fulfill the nonprofit’s mission and vision, which is to provide mentorship, education, inspiration, and advocacy for people with disabilities, especially children with limb differences.
Boy, have we. I never thought about the impact this airplane would have on the world, but already we’ve managed two tours with a third in the planning stages.
In 2020, retired Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, and I had a fun flight in N26R near Washington, D.C., to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Harkin had introduced the ADA in the Senate in 1990. He said the flight was his favorite celebration that year.
After EAA AirVenture and the Ercoupe Nationals were canceled that same year, I made sure to attend them in 2021. It also allowed me to go to Camp Nubability, where 200 kids with limb differences attend a sports camp in Du Quoin, Illinois. I invited the kids to the airport and showed them N26R.
While at AirVenture, I got to spend some time with a local girl named Dafca, who had lost her arms in a fire. We stopped at Mission Creek camp near Topeka, Kansas, and visited adults with disabilities on the way back.
Now, thanks to support from SITA Aero, an airport communications company, I have the opportunity to host a limb-different STEM airport day at New York’s JFK Airport in late March.
In a mere few years, N26R has impacted so many lives. I added, “Believe you can fly!” to her fuselage in celebration. Who knows what else awaits us?
But most of all, I want to say thank you to Tim Treat for giving me the wings of inspiration.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.JessicaCox.com.