Keynote Speaker – Mandy Hickson

Mandy Hickson’s session was entitled ‘Dream it, believe it, do it’ and her enthusiasm and energy shone through as she inspired us with tales from her 17 year career as a fast jet pilot whose office was a Tornado GR4.

Mandy first flew at the age of 13 as an air-cadet, gaining her flying licence before she was legally able to drive. However, her goal of becoming a fighter pilot was initially hampered by being a woman. Sense eventually prevailed and they (RAF) needed a ‘test-case’.

She took the male-oriented aptitude test twice – the maximum number of lifetime attempts allowed. The computer said ‘no’. However, her human assessors said ‘above average’  and she embarked on a gruelling training programme whilst carrying the burden of being told that she had been set up to fail. She made it to the frontline and 45 combat missions in Iraq as the only female air crew member at that time, and one of only three women in the RAF to do so to-date.

Throughout, we were provided with insights in how she attained her goals. Mandy’s story was not all happy-ever-afters, but a series of obstacles which needed to be climbed. Visualising goals and being task-oriented enabled her to achieve those goals. She took chances whilst not being afraid of failure. Failure can be surmounted through maintaining a positive mind-set, thinking creatively and being able to rely on your team (Mandy’s colleagues made planes from their bikes to help her overcome a mental block for the ‘chop-ride’ – a fail-and-you’re-out flight).

Mandy littered her talk with humour and funny anecdotes: favourites of which were her receiving the nickname ‘Big Bird’ (Sesame Street) instead of her favoured ‘Ice Maiden’, and caught on camera waving to a Lake District fell-walker from her jet.

Mandy’s life has come full circle, and she’s now taking air-cadets up on flights. Emily could be the next Mandy, but unlike Mandy her self-belief was low and she was terrified of failure. Whether our goals are big, like Mandy/Emily’s, or small, like the man who wanted to ride a bigger lawnmower at work, we should stop the doubt, grab the goal, and build from any failure with the support of our team.

I’m off to plan my expedition to the South Pole…

For more information about Mandy:

Louise Gillies – Soroptimist Associate Member