First Pilot To Fly Without Arms Celebrates 30th Anniversary of Americans With Disabilities Act By Taking The U.S. Senator Who Sponsored The Bill, Flying!

Published in Midwest Flyer – October/November 2020 issue

On July 24, 2020, Jessica Cox of Tucson, Arizona, the world’s first pilot born without arms, took former U.S. Senator Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) flying in her rudderless 1946 Ercoupe at Frederick Municipal Airport in Frederick, Maryland (KFDK). This was Jessica’s way of thanking Sen. Harkin for his leadership, which made it possible for her and millions of other Americans with disabilities to access their rights and pursue their hopes and dreams.

The former senator was the lead sponsor of the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), a landmark piece of legislation, which turned 30 years old on July 26, 2020. Harkin remains one of ADA’s fiercest advocates.

Jessica and Sen. Harkin flew the pattern at Frederick several times. She controls the aircraft with one foot on the yoke and the other on the throttle. It was a hot and humid morning, but that did not deter either pilot. Harkin is a former Navy pilot, active GA pilot, and a member of the Congressional GA Caucus and the Aircraft Owners & Pilots Association (AOPA).

“I’ve been in Washington and doing events, but this day has been the best,” Sen. Harkin said after he noted that Jessica “greased” the landing. “Her first landing was so-so, but then she went back to do it again—with all of these cameras rolling—and it was just perfect!”

After landing her plane, Jessica said, “It was a privilege to fly with the person who made so much of a difference in the lives of those like me.” The flight also gave Jessica the opportunity to talk to Harkin about the work that still needs to be done.

With ADA, Jessica was able to attend school, earn a degree, get her driver’s license, and eventually obtain her Sport Pilot Certificate in 2008. She uses her feet and toes like arms and fingers to control the aircraft. She is also the first armless black belt in taekwondo and enjoys surfing and scuba diving. Jessica can also type at 25 words per minute and travels the world as a motivational speaker and advocate for disability rights.

See Jessica’s recent airshow promo video:

KFDK is the home airport of the Aircraft Owners & Pilots Association, which supported the ADA legislation.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Special thanks to the editorial staff at AOPA for providing the information and photographs used in this article!

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