By Natalie Rodgers
In 2016, Belgium teenager, Zara Rutherford, began training to become a pilot at just 14 years old. After six years of training, Rutherford gained her pilot’s license in 2020 and planned her first feat as a pilot: become the youngest woman to fly solo around the world. Now, just two years after receiving her license, Rutherford has accomplished her goal. After 155 days of traveling, Zara Rutherford, at age 19, is the second youngest person to fly around the world solo, next to pilot Travis Ludlow who completed the journey at 18 years old.
On August 18, 2021, Rutherford set out on her five-month journey to fly around the world aboard a Shark UL aircraft, a single engine, low-wing, lightweight airplane. Although the journey was only planned to last about three months, Rutherford did not return home until January of 2022, about five months after her departure due to many unforeseen complications, mainly due to bad weather. In an interview with NPR, Rutherford recounted instances of near miss lightning strikes in Singapore, thunderstorms near the equator and severe turbulence and fogginess from the California wildfires. Rutherford also had to spend unexpected, extended time in Texas while she waited for her visa to renew, route detours around China due to the country’s strict COVID-19 restrictions, spent weeks in a small village in Siberia and encountered difficulty communicating with air traffic controllers in Seoul.
“It’s been a long five months — really difficult,” Rutherford told NPR near the end of her journey, “I’m looking forward to seeing my family again.”
But along with the unforeseen, Rutherford experienced just as many fond memories, making stops in 41 countries and five continents over the course of 28,000 nautical miles. In fact, Rutherford noted her time in Siberia as one of her fondest memories, telling NPR, “It’s very remote, and I’ll probably never get a chance to see it in my lifetime.” Rutherford additionally cited Alaska, Taiwan and Saudi Arabia as some of her favorite locations for their beautiful landscapes and the kind people.
Upon her arrival on January 20, 2022, Rutherford not only accomplished her goal of becoming the youngest woman to fly around the world, but also became the first woman to circumnavigate the world in a microlight aircraft as well as the first Belgian to circumnavigate the world solo in a single-engine aircraft.
“It’s just really crazy; I haven’t quite processed it,” Rutherford told reporters upon her landing, “It takes a lot of time, patience, a lot of work, but it is incredible.”
Her journey was supported by Shark.Aero, which provided her aircraft, and included sponsorships and partnerships with Richard Branson’s Virgin Group, Belgium’s SafeSky and TMC Group. Rutherford also partnered up with several women and STEM nonprofit groups, desiring to inspire other young girls to follow their passions in the STEM field. Among her partners were Girls Who Code and Dreams Solar.
“Basically, my dream is that in the future, if a girl wants to go into aviation or wants to go into engineering, it’s not special,” Rutherford told NPR, “It’s just like, ‘Oh, cool, like, just another person who’s doing a cool thing with their life.’ But it doesn’t matter what gender they are.”
Source: NPR, Wikipedia.