The Trailblazing Pilot Who Shattered Glass Ceilings
Mandy Hickson and I are cut from the same generational cloth; the original Top Gun soundtrack the backdrop to our teens. It was a time that shaped our dreams and fuelled desires to spread our wings; to truly make a difference in the world. Mandy broke boundaries in aviation, while I ventured into big scale event production. While I might have watched jets on the big screen, Mandy piloted them in real life. Both of us fuelled by a want for something beyond the norm.
Welcoming her as 360 Speakers' first female voice is more than an honour; it's a personal thank you to her for leaving the ladder down and, for extending a hand to all those young girls with equally big dreams following behind her.
It was an absolute pleasure to bring our conversation to life through this interview.
Stay inspired. Stay curious.
A Foundation Built on Resilience
Mandy Hickson eyes gleam wide, as she recalls her early life. “You know, my mum was an unsung hero. Raising two daughters as a single parent, she was both the hand that fed us and the arm that shielded us. When the washing machine broke, she was on the floor with a wrench; when finances were tight, she got creative. My sister and I learned not ever to wait for a knight in shining armour. Rather to be the knight. I got my resilience from her. She taught me not only to fly, but how to build my own wings too, saying ‘If it's going to be someone Mandy, why shouldn't it be you?’”
Taking the Plunge: The Birth of a Career
"I had my first taste of challenging systemic issues at 16, when I was told I was obese” she tells me. “I applied for a flying scholarship and I was told that my BMI disqualified me. It was bizarre. I was a six-foot-tall athlete, a head girl who was far from obese. But the regulations were clear, if outdated. But, I did what I had to—I lost the weight anyway. I went against medical advice, jeopardising my health to meet the bar they set. It was an early life lesson on how institutions, cloaked in the guise of authority, can perpetuate harmful norms.”
The Power of Allies
“University laid the groundwork for my next battle, after joining the Air Squadron. In my second year with them, they changed the rules of allowing women to join. I applied and I failed all the tests not once, but twice. Women just couldn't be pilots—was the wisdom of the day,” Mandy shares, adding “But I had something—or rather, someone—most don't. My Squadron boss saw the discrepancies, questioned them, and acted. He took a deep dive into why so many women were failing the flight aptitude tests. It turned out that these tests were calibrated for men; they'd never been updated to include women. My boss was an ally in the truest sense—he didn't just offer supportive words, he rolled up his sleeves, got to work and stuck to his words. It took them about four years to re-design the tests completely, but they did it and now they have a new and better set of testing”.
Defining Success and Breaking Norms Mandy leans in, her posture shifting as she gets to the heart of her philosophy. “Success is about leaving a door open wider than you found it. I've shattered some ceilings, but what gives me real satisfaction is knowing others won't have to fight as hard.” She pauses, then says, “I think it’s so important to remember that systemic change is built on the contributions of many, not just those in the limelight. The door you leave open shouldn’t always be one simply of opportunity, but also of perspective and empathy. Of teamwork and community. During the lockdown, I folded scrubs in a hospital laundry. Some might think it trivial but to me, it was profound. It put me back in touch with humanity, with the unsung heroes who keep the world turning. It was a humbling experience that recalibrated my sense of teamwork and community.” Failing Upwards “Have I failed? Absolutely,” Mandy states with no trace of embarrassment. “I failed the aptitude tests for becoming a pilot twice. In my eyes, I also failed plenty more times. There were often times I doubted myself, believing I wasn’t good enough. But it was when I realised that it was me who was writing the dialogue, telling myself I was no good, and not others, that things changed. That self doubt ended up teaching me more about my resilience and drive than any victory ever did. Failing was a rite of passage, a trial by fire that made the final triumph even sweeter. It doesn’t mean to say that at times I still don’t get imposter syndrome - because I do. But now, whenever I feel that way, I’ll take myself off to the side, have a quiet word, and ask myself - where’s the evidence that you’e not good enough Mandy? The evidence is never there. And so I re-focus, take a breath and go get on with with it. The truth is, failure breeds resilience. You cannot give the gift of resilience if everything's gone according to plan”. Her Vision: A Legacy of Change “As for my legacy,” Mandy elaborates, “it's to make sure that the ladder is firmly down for others to flood up it. And the only way that I’m going to be able to do that is by being a really positive role model and putting myself out there. The legacy of of change is probably the legacy that I'll be leaving” The Final Word “When you're told ‘no’ based on something you can’t control—whether that’s your gender, your size, your background—it’s easy to accept it and give up,” Mandy concludes, her eyes locking into mine as if willing me to absorb this final lesson. “But the only limits that really matter are the ones you set for yourself. So, let’s not wait for permission or validation. Let’s take the helm and let’s fly.”