A teenage pilot has set a record for being the youngest woman to fly solo around the world. Belgian-British Zara Rutherford spent 155 days in her Shark Aero ultralight before touching down in Kortrijk-Wevelgem in Belgium to complete her round-the-world challenge earlier today.
Zara Rutherford is a Belgian-British pilot, holding FAA and UK private pilot licences plus Slovakian and French microlight licences. She says she has been flying for ‘as long as I can remember’, and that one of her biggest dreams has always been to fly around the world. At just 19, having completed her A levels in Math, Economics, Further Math and Physics, the ambitious youngster set off from Belgium, heading West, to begin her challenge.
Today, 155 days later, Zara touched down in Belgium once again, completing her challenge and earning her place in the history books.
Previously, the youngest woman to have flown around the world solo was Shaesta Waiz, who was 30 when she completed her challenge. Zara has beaten this by more than a decade, narrowing the gap between male and female, with the youngest solo man record still held by Travis Ludlow who was 18.
Part of the reason to undertake the challenging journey was to encourage girls and young women to take up careers in aviation and STEM. In a statement on her website, Zara said,
“Only 5% of commercial pilots and 15% of computer scientists are women. In both areas – aviation and STEM – the gender gap is huge. It is in fact a dream gap as our dreams are shaped from early childhood through the fairy tales and role models we are exposed to. Boys learn through toys, street names, history classes and movies that they can be scientists, astronauts, CEO’s or presidents. Girls are often encouraged to be beautiful, kind, helpful and sweet.
The circumnavigation Zara undertook took in 60 stops across five continents. Originally planned to take around three months, the trip was hampered by multiple issues. In fact, when she arrived in Alaska, only three of the 39 flights she had taken had gone to plan.
Delays due to bad weather caused her visa for Russia to expire. She had to wait in Nome for her passport to be shipped over to the Russian consulate in Houston. Even then, she had to wait three more weeks before the weather was good enough in both Nome and Russia to cross the Bering Strait.
There were mechanical issues to contend with too. Instrument malfunctions in New Mexico caused problems, and a flat tire saw her stranded in Singapore for Christmas. She had to cope with flying through wildfire smoke in California, and blinding smog in Delhi.
As well as becoming the first female to fly solo around the world, Zara has also jumped into more records today. She becomes the first woman to fly a microlight around the world, and the first Belgian to fly around the world solo