An Arizona woman has become the first licensed pilot in the US without arms after she learned to fly a plane with her feet.
Jessica Cox, 36, from Phoenix, was born with a rare condition that caused her to not develop her upper limbs in the womb.
She learned to use her feet to do everything from play piano, drive a car, become a certified scuba diver and earn a third-degree black belt in taekwondo, reported CNN.
But perhaps Cox’s greatest accomplishment is becoming certified to fly a single engine plane, and she says she hopes to inspire others with disabilities by showing they too can accomplish anything.
Cox told CNN that doctors were never been able to understand why she didn’t develop arms in her mother’s womb. No previous scans had showed something was wrong.
‘My mom had a normal pregnancy,’ she told the network. ‘And then on the day of my birth, it was an absolute shock to both of my parents…when the doctor brought me over saying: “Your baby doesn’t have any arms.”‘
Although it has never been confirmed, Cox was likely born with amelia, a rare condition in which one or more limbs doesn’t form.
The cause is unknown but the limb formation process is usually prevented or interrupted very early, between 24 and 36 days after fertilization.
It is unknown how many people have the condition because most affected infants are stillborn or die shortly after birth.
Although it may be present as an isolated defect, amelia is associated with other malformations 50 percent of the time, according to the National Institutes of Health.
This includes cleft lip and/or palate, internal organ protrusion, a herniated diaphragm, small kidney and lung defects.
From a young age, Cox was incredibly active from taking tap dancing lessons to participating in Girl Scouts, though she often got stares and comments.
‘I wanted so much to be normal, and I was told too often that I couldn’t do something or that I was handicapped,’ she told CNN. ‘I absolutely resented the word “handicap”.’
Despite learning how to use prosthetic arms, Cox said she didn’t like using them and preferred to use her feet.
Cox told CNN that she used to be incredibly frightened of airplanes until the pilot of a small plane invited her up to the cockpit.
‘The pilot brought me to the front of the plane. The plane has dual controls,’ she said.
‘He took his hands off of the control and let me do the flying. Even if something is scary to you, it’s important that we face it.’
She decided she wanted to train to become a pilot after she graduated with a degree in psychology from the University of Arizona in 2005, CNN reported.
‘I had numerous flight instructors and contributors to my training to figure this out,’ Cox told the network. ‘So, it was a three-year process to figure out through trial and error what would work.’
She also found a plane that would be comfortable for her to work with her feet: a light aircraft with a single engine known as an Ercoupe.
‘There were a lot of questions. There were a lot of concerns. There were a lot of doubters on whether this was possible,’ Cox said.
Cox became certified by the Federal Aviation Administration in October 2008 to fly the plane, which she does with one foot on the yoke and the other on the throttle.
She hopes she can become an inspiration for young children and encourage them to face their fears.
‘Because I live my life the way I do, it has this tremendous impact on other people,’ she told CNN.
‘I’ve had role models and leaders. And because I’ve had that, now it’s my responsibility to be the same for the next generation.’
In a post on Instagram from March, Cox announced she had just passed her biennial flight review, and wrote in the caption: ‘I’m a current pilot again!’