The Edit

Mandy Hickson, trailblazing fast jet pilot

Belong to the legend
Archaic traditions, glass ceilings and sound barriers. These are just a few of the things that fast jet pilot Mandy Hickson has had to shatter during her challenging career. Discover how she realised her once forbidden dream and how she continues to inspire others.

Describing herself as an absolute speed freak born to fly, Mandy Hickson fought against the odds to pursue her childhood dream and become one of Britain’s first female fast jet pilots. With unyielding determination, she tackled archaic traditions, broke sound barriers, and forged her own unique path, inspiring others along the way.

A sense of destiny

Enthralled by her grandfather’s stories of being a fighter pilot in World War Two, Mandy knew she was destined to take to the skies. On the day the Royal Air Force opened up the chance for girls to become air cadets, she was only 13 years old but grabbed the opportunity to sign up straight away. Not long afterward, she took her first flight in a De Havilland Chipmunk and was instantly hooked on flying, knowing she had found her vocation.

Indomitable spirit

Although her desired career path was clear, the RAF didn’t allow female pilots at the time – yet she was determined to find a way. With no one to emulate, Mandy realised that if she was to achieve her dream she would have to be her own role model.


She worked tenaciously towards her goal, hoping that by the time she was ready the RAF would have changed its rules. At 17, she applied for a scholarship and won 30 hours of flying time. The extra hours required to get her pilot’s licence were paid for with money from her paper round, and she learnt how to fly a plane before she could drive a car.


At university, she joined the Air Squadrons and in her second year, a door opened: the RAF announced it would allow female jet pilots. It was perfect timing, and after initially struggling with the aptitude test, her squadron leader intervened and she was allowed to join as a trial. On investigation, it was found that the majority of women were failing these tests due to unconscious bias within the testing system.

The second I took to the skies, I knew it was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.

Mandy Hickson

Breaking barriers

With pressure weighing heavily on her, Mandy started one of the most intense flying training courses in the world. Instead of being intimidated by the odds of success at one in 8,000, she met the challenge head on and developed a razor-sharp focus on becoming a fast jet pilot who would fly the finest aircraft.


Unlike her male counterparts, Mandy also had to deal with a macrocosm of sexism. There were no female toilets and no female flying kits. It was a very male-dominated world. She hadn’t appreciated that being one of the first also meant being one of the only, and for a time the bullying was quite bad. Her incredible drive and survival instincts kicked in, making her colleagues realise that she was just like them in every way that mattered. Gradually, as the team’s sense of community grew, so did their camaraderie, forming unbreakable bonds with her squadron that were cemented during her three tours of duty – in which she became only the second woman to fly a Tornado GR4 on the front line.  

I was only ever afraid of letting my team down. I was never fearful of dying.

Mandy Hickson

Inspiring a new generation

Understanding her responsibility to the next generation, Mandy is now a thought-provoking coach and speaker who aspires to be the kind of role model she never had. Looking back, she’s rightly very proud of what she and all her female colleagues achieved. She’s a great advocate of the power of positive thinking, being committed to following your dreams, and having the determination to succeed against adversity.

Mandy Hickson and her extraordinary trailblazing career are part of our Belong to the Legend series. Look out for more unique stories coming soon.