Belgian-British pilot Zara Rutherford has achieved an unimaginable feat. The 19-year-old is now the youngest woman to have flown solo around the world. With her trusted Shark ultralight aircraft, Rutherford started her mission on August 18, 2021, and it took her five months to complete it (January 20, 2022), earning her a spot in the Guinness World Records book.

 

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A post shared by Zara Rutherford (@fly.zolo)

Rutherford marked the end of her flight in Kortrijk-Wevelgem in Belgium, two months later than expected owing to weather conditions playing spoilsport in her journey. The brave pilot had four planes from the Belgian Red Devils aerobatic display team by her side when she landed. Surrounded by her family and friends, and wrapped in British and Belgian flags, Rutherford said: “It’s just really crazy, I haven’t quite processed it.”  She was “so glad” she took on the challenge of flying 51,000 km. This distance saw her do 60 stops across five continents.

Her flight took her to India, UAE, Sri Lanka, South Korea, Russia, and more, and each location brought with it unique experiences.

 

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A post shared by Zara Rutherford (@fly.zolo)

 

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A post shared by Zara Rutherford (@fly.zolo)

Speaking of her experiences of this solo trip, she said, “The hardest part was flying over Siberia; it was extremely cold and if the engine was to stall I’d be hours away from rescue. I’m not sure I would have survived.” Staying upbeat despite the trials she endured, Rutherford says, “I’m looking forward to telling people about my experiences and encouraging people to do something crazy with your life. If you have the opportunity—go for it.” Her updates on social media show her smiling and cheerful and reveal her passion which is unmatched.

 

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Her former school, St Swithun’s School, was among the first to congratulate the aviator. Jane Gandee, the headteacher at the school, stated that they had been following Rutherford’s journey “with interest and admiration,” and “fifty of our own students have been inspired by Zara to have a go at flying, and I am sure that her example will serve as inspiration for many more young women around the world.”

Until now, the youngest woman to fly solo around the world was American Shaesta Waiz, who was 30 at the time, in 2017.

Setting this record wasn’t a straightforward journey. The pilot had to think on her feet and work around the unpredictable situations that came up. After flying almost half of her mission, she found herself stuck in Nome, Alaska for a week while she waited for her visa renewal and for the weather gods to be kind enough to let her fly out to Russia. Once there, she had to brave freezing cold temperatures and fly through snow showers.

Zara Rutherford

 

Peppered with adventure, she pointed out one new challenge for her was navigating through wildfire smoke in California. And while staying at a hotel in Mexico, she experienced an earthquake as well. Land, air, or water, Rutherford had to fight all the elements to complete her mission, and that is not something an ordinary person can pull off.

Coming from a family of aviators, the young pilot aims to encourage girls and young women to pursue their dreams and do well in aviation and STEM-related careers (science, technology, engineering, mathematics). She says the gender gap is huge in these fields, and by signing up for this challenge, Rutherford’s idea was to show young women that they can be bold, ambitious and realize their dreams.

 

Image credit: @fly.zolo