BRUSSELS – A 19-year-old Belgian-British pilot set a world record as the youngest woman to fly solo around the world, touching her small airplane down in western Belgium on Thursday – 155 days after she departed.
Zara Rutherford dedicated the accomplishment to all young women trying to succeed in male-dominated sectors like aviation.
“Go for it. It takes a lot of time, patience, a lot of work, but it is incredible,” she said after an adventure in which she encountered frozen tundra in Siberia. typhoons in the Philippines and the stark beauty of the Arabian desert.
Once, her one-seater Shark microlight plane filled up with the stench of California wildfires. Often she was flying in absolute solitude over seas or desolate land, any potential rescue hours away. She had to spend weeks isolated in the tiny Siberian village of Ayan with barely any contact with her family or the world she knows.
“We will celebrate this by being as a family together, at first,” her mother Beatrice said. “I think Zara wants to celebrate by sleeping about two weeks.”
She will find herself in the Guinness World Records book after breaking the record that had been held by 30-year-old American Shaesta Waiz since 2017.
The overall record will remain out of Rutherford's grasp, since Briton Travis Ludlow set that benchmark last year as an 18-year-old.
Her global flight was supposed to take three months, but relentless bad weather and visa issues kept her grounded sometimes for weeks on end, extending her adventure by about two months.
In her trek of more than 28,000 nautical miles, she stopped over in five continents and visited 41 nations.
Rutherford's flight saw her steer clear of wildfires in California, deal with biting cold over Russia and narrowly avoid North Korean airspace. She flew by Visual Flight Rules, basically going on sight only, often slowing down progress when more sophisticated systems could have led her through clouds and fog.
Sometimes she feared for her life, and at other times she simply yearned for the simple comforts of home. Flying runs in her blood since both her parents are pilots and she has been traveling in small planes since she was 6. At 14, she started flying herself.
Pretty soon, the dream of flying round the world grew in her head.
“But I never thought it would be possible. I thought that it is too difficult, too dangerous, too expensive,” she said.
Sponsorship and individual contributions took care of the cost. The danger and difficulty she handled herself.
Timing-wise, it fit in perfectly between high school and university.
“I thought, actually, this is the perfect opportunity to do something crazy and fly around the world,” she said.
In September, she hopes to be off to a university in Britain or the United States to study electrical engineering.