by Jim Bea Sampaga
Born in 1983 Arizona to a Filipino mom and an American dad, Jessica Cox has made the impossible possible throughout her life.
She was born without arms. But that didn’t stop her from living a normal life. She graduated high school and pursued a degree in psychology at the University of Arizona.
As part of living the “normal” life, Jessica wore prosthetic arms growing up. However, after 11 years of wearing them, she admits she never found a connection with them.
“From the day I was born, I started interacting with the world through my feet. I played with my first toys using my feet,” Jessica told Hawaii Filipino Chronicle.
“When I used prosthetics, they were slower, and I couldn’t tell whether something was hot, cold, soft, hard, rough, or smooth. So, it’s always been more natural to use my feet.”
After graduating college, she pursued a career in motivational speaking. Jessica shared that in her sophomore year in high school, she was asked to speak to a group of 7th graders.
“That was the first time I saw my story inspire other people. Since then, I’ve inspired people in 28 countries, and it supports both myself and my husband,” she said.
In her events, she teaches the skills she has learned living without arms on how to reframe challenges. “Do something that scares you,” she would often tell her audiences.
To take her own advice, Jessica did the impossible. She became the world’s first armless pilot. “It was my greatest fear. Not the flying part, but losing contact with the ground,” she said.
Flying an airplane was not an overnight achievement. It took Jessica three years, three states, four airplanes and three flight instructors to finally fly the right aircraft.
“I’ve only flown a 1946 Ercoupe airplane. The Ercoupe is great for local, slow flying. It cruises at about 85 mph and flies for about 500 miles. It is the only plane ever built with all the flight controls built into the hand controls,” she shared.
“Normally there are rudder pedals to make a plane turn left and right. But I put my feet on the controls and the throttle, and I can fly.”
Finally, in 2008, Jessica earned her Light Sport Pilot Certificate. Then in 2011, she received the Guinness World Record for being the first person certified to fly a plane with only their feet.
But Jessica is not stopping her pilot journey just yet. She’s on a mission to build the first foot-controlled airplane in history.
“I know I can help shape the perception of people with disabilities and challenge the negative assumptions people have. So, I approached a manufacturer about modifying one of their aircraft to make it easier for me to fly,” Jessica told Hawaii Filipino Chronicle.
Currently, Jessica and her team at Impossible Airplane are about halfway through the process of building the plane: Van’s Aircraft RV-10. According to Jessica, the aircraft cruises at 200 mph and flies for 1,000 miles.
“An engineering team is helping me design the modifications, and another group of volunteers in New Jersey is helping assemble the airplane,” she shared.
“The wings arrived partially assembled from Van’s, and I learned the work was done in the Philippines!”
Ecstatic with her new wings of pride, Jessica shares that her mom and aunt cultivated her Filipino heritage and spirit.
“I didn’t just grow up with my mom cultivating Filipino culture in our family, but also my aunt lived with us. It was very important to my mother to stay connected with the Filipino culture wherever we lived. We also made many trips back to the Philippines,” she said.
Jessica also shared she was able to bring her husband and mother-in-law to her mom’s hometown of Bobon, Mercedes in Eastern Samar, Philippines. In fact, her husband proudly cooks Filipino food at their home.
“My husband has learned to cook chicken adobo in several different ways, including with coconut milk. I’d never had coconut milk in adobo until he cooked it!” she said.
With her career and achievements, Jessica’s Filipino spirit is undeniably strong. She credits the Filipino values for her perseverance and hard work.
“If it wasn’t for [the Filipino spirit], I wouldn’t be the person I am today and share with thousands of people around the world how to achieve the impossible,” she said.
Aside from her most famous achievement as a pilot and career as a motivational speaker, Jessica is also an entrepreneur, a black belt and Taekwondo champion, and author.
When asked about her message to the Filipino community, Jessica said:
“Remember the Filipino spirit. Be proud of that spirit and the community we have no matter where we are in the world.”
by Jim Bea Sampaga