The Air Up There Podcast
Flying Feet First

Season 6, Episode 14

Meet Jessica Cox, a sport pilot who was born without arms and mastered the skill of flying an airplane with her feet. What led her to this Guinness World Record-worthy feat was an opportunity to meet life’s challenges and a hunger for independence. She shares details of the day she embarked on a path that would inspire others to venture into aviation.

Jessica talks openly about the safety aspects that were addressed when she was getting certificated as a sport pilot and shares her biggest physical challenge when learning how to fly with her feet. She also discusses her groundbreaking initiative to develop a custom airplane designed specifically to be foot-controlled and encourages other people with disabilities to consider aviation.

If you enjoy this episode, inspire others by sharing with friends, family and colleagues because aerospace is for everyone. Interested in becoming a pilot? Check out the FAA’s Pilot's Portal where you’ll find information on certification, training, and the safety standards all pilots must know, consider, and meet to be airworthy. 

Meet Our Guest
Jessica Cox was born without arms and uses her feet the way most people use their hands. In 2008, she earned her sport pilot certificate, becoming the first woman to fly an airplane with only their feet. Jessica is a Goodwill Ambassador for the Flight School Association of North America and writes a monthly article for Flying Magazine. Jessica plans to build The Impossible Airplane, a 200 mph four-seat RV-10, the first solely foot-controlled airplane in history.

Disclaimer: Reference in this podcast to any specific commercial product, process, service, manufacturer, company, or trademark does not constitute endorsement or recommendation by the U.S. government, Department of Transportation, or Federal Aviation Administration. As an agency of the U.S. government, the FAA cannot endorse or appear to endorse any specific product or service.

Flying Feet First
Flying Feet First
Audio file

Jessica Cox: The pilot said, would you like to try to put your foot up on this yoke? Then I took my shoe off and I slipped my foot out. So, I reached my foot up to grab a hold of the yoke between my big toe and second toe and then I look over and the pilot says you're flying the plane. And I was like, wow. And it was that moment that sparked this desire to pursue it to the end and become a pilot. 

DaiJah Metoyer: That’s Jessica Cox, a Sport Pilot who received a Guinness World Record for being the first person certified to fly an airplane with only their feet. 

Lucy Jabbour: It took three states, four airplanes, three flight instructors, and three years to find the right aircraft, a 1946 415C Ercoupe. 

DaiJah Metoyer: But Jessica persevered. And she is our guest. We’re your hosts. I’m DaiJah Metoyer. 

Lucy Jabbour: And I’m Lucy Jabbour - and this is The Air Up There!

Various People: This is your captain speaking. The feeling I get when I’m flying; you get an adrenaline rush. Seeing something fly is awesome. It’s incredible to be able to fly. Flying airplanes is all I’ve ever wanted to do. I get so excited about aviation, aeronautics, space, engineering, and tech. Like star gazing and just wondering what it would be like to be up there. I just fell in love with it. Stick with your passion and pursue it. Just know you can do it. There is not a room, there is not a cockpit, there is not a place that you don’t belong. There’s certainly a place for everybody in aerospace.

DaiJah Metoyer: In this episode, Jessica talks about being held to the same safety standard as other pilots. Those standards are called the Airman Certification Standards, or ACS. 

Lucy Jabbour: The ACS tells applicants, instructors, and evaluators what an airman must KNOW, CONSIDER, and DO to pass the knowledge and practical tests for airman certificates and ratings. 

DaiJah Metoyer: The FAA created these standards to enhance safety by making sure applicants can demonstrate that they are able to operate safely in the National Airspace System. 

Lucy Jabbour: You can find the ACS and other helpful information on becoming a pilot at the FAA’s Pilot’s Portal at

DaiJah Metoyer: What do you say to someone that might ask the question, is flying with your feet safe? 

Jessica Cox: I think people always have that question, DaiJah, in the back of their mind. But I also think there's a lot of things that bring up the question, Is this safe? And I think as long as someone is properly trained, and I've had amazing instructors along the way. I have an FAA certified examiner who gave me the go ahead and certified me as a sport pilot. They were playing it by the books. And, and he really didn't let me off in any, you know, made it easy on me or anything. It was actually a pretty long test, if I remember it. It was just very intense. So, they're making sure that that I'm safe.

Lucy Jabbour: Jessica, when did you first get interested in aviation? 

Jessica Cox: I actually have a very interesting story with aviation. Being that I never really liked it. I mean, I was terrified flying commercially as a kid. It never connected with me. So, my experience wasn't necessarily positive in the beginning. But it came as a challenge to me and I'm very challenge-driven and so that was when this sparked. It was timing too and was right after college. It was August, the summer of my senior year in college. I had graduated, I was ready to take on the next challenge and this opportunity presented itself to learn how to fly. And it was just like, why not? This is one way to show the world that you shouldn't let fear stand in the way of any opportunity.

DaiJah Metoyer: I know, you said this opportunity landed in your lap. But was there something that really wanted to make you go for it? 

Jessica Cox: It was like, so foreign to me, the idea of being in a small plane, and I just remember my first keynote speech. I was invited in to do an international keynote speech, but it required that I get in this Cessna, which is pretty much the most popular type of airplane. Because this was a little part of Mexico that you can't really get to commercially. But as you know, in airplanes, there's dual controls. So, there's controls on both the right and left side. So, on the way back, the pilot said, well, why don't you sit here in the copilot seat? So, I had the equal controls on my side and he just said, would you like to try to put your foot up on this control wheel or yoke? You know and I said, yeah, let me try it and then I took my shoe off and I slipped my foot out. So, I reached my foot up to grab a hold of the yoke between my big toe and second toe and then I look over and the pilot says you're flying the plane. And I was like, wow. And it was that moment that sparked this desire to pursue it to the end and become a pilot. It was just so empowering and independence is something I had seeked my whole life. So, it was this ultimate form of independence as well. 

Lucy Jabbour: Do you remember your first solo flight? What was that, like? 

Jessica Cox: My first solo flight was unlike anything I can ever describe. It was the most empowering feeling because, first of all, I didn't land on the first try. It took me another try around the pattern to make sure that I was feeling good, like I could land. And there's nothing wrong with a go around. That's one thing as a pilot you learned is, you know. You don't look bad if you have to go around the airport another time. So, I came in on the second try and I landed and it was just this feeling of like disbelief.  Like, I cannot believe I just did that. And it was Mother's Day and I just remember, the moment I landed, calling up my mom and saying, mom, you wouldn't believe you know what I did. And it was just this surge of confidence that I... if I conquered flying, there's nothing that should stand in my way.

Lucy Jabbour: In 2008, you earned your Sport Pilot certificate. Can you kind of take us through that journey? 

Jessica Cox: Well, it wasn't easy from the beginning because no one had ever done this before as far as I knew at that point. No one had flown a plane with just their feet and to this day, I believe I'm the only one as far as I know, in all the years that I've been a pilot. And all my pilot friends in the community say, I'm the only one who's learned to fly and with my toes alone on the controls. So, there were a lot of questions. How is this going to be done? You know, who's going to teach me? Would this be even allowed? Is this you know, is this going to be a problem getting the authorities to endorse this? Will other people be comfortable with this idea? Will people think I'm crazy? There's a lot of different questions. But I'm pretty, fairly bullheaded. And so, it was ingrained in me that that sense of just do it, because I was born without arms. So, it was just, I had to just do it. And so, for me, none of those concerns really dawned on me, it was just how am I going to figure this out? And it was really, that can-do attitude, that initiated everything, and that's with anyone aspiring to do anything great in life, you have to have that belief and that's how it started. It started, that’s started my journey. Find the instructor. Find the airplane. Train. And it was a long three-year arduous journey to do that with a number of hurdles, but an amazing community of pilots who are behind me 100%. And I do want to do a shout out to my instructor Parrish Traweek, because he really took me to the end to get my certification and I really appreciated that. 

Lucy Jabbour: What were some of the like biggest hurdles that you found the most challenging through that.

Jessica Cox: Some of them were the physical aspect of you know, landing a plane, because there's so many things going on. That was probably the hardest physical task for me. Making sure that I'm in a safe position to do that part, the landing. It took me a long time to just get it. And I think I remember hitting a wall in my training and having to have another instructor just step in for a few lessons to kind of shake it up a little. And I got through that and finally, figured it out. How to land safely. 

DaiJah Metoyer: What makes the ErCoupe airplane ideal for flying with your feet? Why that airplane specifically? 

Jessica Cox: So, that was another challenge, because there are not many airplanes in aviation history that can be flown with two limbs and because I have two limbs, a right foot, a left foot, two legs. I had to figure out what plane was going to work. And sure enough, the ErCoupe, which was built in the 40s, post-World War II, was the only airplane designed without rudder pedals. And the ailerons and the rudders are interconnected allowing for someone to have full control of that airplane with only two hands on the yoke. One on the throttle. And many paraplegics, many people with polio, have learned in this particular airplane. So, it was a perfect fit for me, because I had two functional limbs and I just had to elevate my feet up on the controls. Like people would have their hands on the controls and that took a lot of ab work. But after doing it over and over and over, I trained my abs to have that strength to do what's the hardest thing for me with my feet, which is flaring back when you land. Which is basically pulling the yoke as far back to your core as possible.

Lucy Jabbour: Can you tell us a little bit about this passion project to help make flying more accessible?

Jessica Cox: We are building a custom airplane that will be the first that can be flown with feet alone. And I'm really excited about this because maybe it will make it so I can fly comfortably. I can be more relaxed. I mean, I'm never really too relaxed because I need to be responsible. But being in a plane that is custom built for the way my legs and feet move is going to be tremendous. And that's why we're building an RV-10 airplane that will be the first ever done like this with custom controls in the left pilot in command seat. With the team of amazing volunteers are making this possible for us. We're calling it The Impossible Airplane. 

DaiJah Metoyer: What advice do you have for people with disabilities who have an interest in aviation? 

Jessica Cox: I just want to encourage them to really consider it, because anything's possible. And I think, even if you have a challenge, that may even help serve you. In a way that you have resilience. You have a way of figuring things out. A way of modifying. A way of making something accessible and so don't ever disregard aviation. I think it's something to just take into consideration, and know that the possibilities are out there. And as a pilot myself, I encourage you to, you know, if that’s something you choose to do. More power to you and we will be there behind you rooting for you all the way through. 

Pilots Portal PSA: Thinking about becoming a pilot, but don’t know where to start? Set your destination to the FAA’s pilots’ portal! If you have questions about the pathway to becoming a pilot, the pilot’s portal has answers at Find test guides, study tips, handbooks, FAA contacts and guidance! Start your flight path today at That’s

Lucy Jabbour: Thank you for listening! For more information about today’s guest, check out Subscribe, like, follow where ever you get your podcasts so you don’t miss out on new episodes. Coming up, in the next episode of The Air Up There...

V: It took about a little over a year for me to get my private pilot certificate. The whole process for me was very life changing. It definitely matured me. It humbled me in many areas.