Finding a love of flying early in life, Mandy Hickson fought hard to achieve her ambition to be a Royal Air Force pilot. She succeeded, and became only the second woman (and one of only three to-date) to fly the multimillion pound Tornado GR4 Jet, completing three tours of duty and a total of 45 missions over Iraq — dodging enemy fire on an almost daily basis.
On the front line she had taken part in numerous bombing and combat missions. Mandy was posted to the II (AC) Squadron, based out of RAF Marham in Norfolk and defended the infamous ‘No Fly Zone’ in the Gulf between the two Gulf wars.
Carrying the latest weaponry she and her unit were ready to drop ordnance on any target in support of operations. Mandy’s life was frequently in danger but she never felt any fear: “when you’re doing the job, you’re just doing the job,” she explains.
Mandy was one of the first girls to join the Air Training Corps, when she was 13 years old. Surprisingly, it wasn’t the prospect of flying which interested her but canoeing, which the Corps also ran, that attracted her, but soon she was hooked. Mandy started flying lessons when she was 17 and had learnt to fly a plane before she could drive a car, joining the RAF aged 21.
However, despite her prowess in the skies, Mandy twice failed the computer based aptitude tests, taken by all potential RAF pilots (and the maximum number of tests allowed). Undeterred, her self-belief and dogged determination persuaded the RAF to take her on as a test case, thereby overcoming seemingly insurmountable hurdles.
When life is on the line, pilots must be rigourously trained and exercises carefully planned and evaluated. There’s much learning from this that can be shared with business from such careful strategy, training, planning and debriefing. Mandy became the Squadron’s Combat Survival and Rescue Officer, working closely with the US, instructing Squadron members on Escape and Evasion tactics.
Throughout her time in the RAF, Mandy Hickson was the only female aircrew and later learned the lessons of juggling life as a working mother of two young children. Now a civilian, she draws on her experiences to train and inspire others, covering the core areas of human factors; decision making, communication, leadership, behaviour, workload, conflict, fatigue and stress management. Mandy is also a highly sought after keynote motivational speaker in the business and education sectors.
Since leaving the RAF she has served as a school governor, on the board of trustees at the Victory Services Club, London, is ambassador for sport for Hampshire County Council and has been the Chairman of her local tennis club.
In 2020, Mandy published her autobiography, An Officer, Not a Gentleman: The inspirational journey of a pioneering female fighter pilot.