Zara Rutherford is flying around the world by herself in a small plane. When she finishes her trip, which will take over two months, she’ll become the youngest woman to fly all the way around the globe by herself. She’s just 19 years old.
Ms. Rutherford, who’s British-Belgian, began her trip in Belgium on August 18. She plans to fly across five continents, through 52 countries before returning to Belgium in November. To break the Guinness World Record, she’ll also need to fly over the equator twice – first in Colombia and again in Indonesia.
Shaesta Waiz, the current record holder, was 30 years old when she flew around the world. She says she’s happy Ms. Rutherford is trying to break her record.
This trip is something Ms. Rutherford has dreamed about for a long time. She’s been learning to fly planes since she was 14 years old. She got her pilot’s license in 2020 and has hundreds of hours of flying practice.
Ms. Rutherford’s parents are both pilots, and they helped her practice. Her father is a professional pilot who delivers planes to people around the world. Ms. Rutherford came with him on many of his trips, sometimes even flying the plane herself.
She’s making this trip in a small two-seater plane called a microlight. One of the seats has been replaced with an extra gas tank, which will allow Ms. Rutherford to cover longer distances.
The plane has had several other updates for safety, including a second radio, and satellite communications that let her talk to people whenever she needs to.
To follow her route, Ms. Rutherford needs to be able to see, since her plane can’t be guided using its instruments alone. That means she can’t fly at night or in bad weather. To avoid clouds, she has to fly close to the land or ocean, which can be dangerous. As one pilot said, “…what she’s doing is really, really, really brave.”
Because of the danger, Ms. Rutherford worked hard to prepare for emergencies. She has even been trained in escaping from a plane landing in the ocean.
Even with the extra tank, Ms. Rutherford won’t be able to fly for long distances over the ocean. Because of this, her route is full of zigzags to different countries.
She plans to stay a night or two in each place to visit with schools and youth groups. She hopes to inspire young girls to explore areas like aviation (flying), science, mathematics, and engineering. As her father points out, currently, only about 5% of pilots are women.
“It’s an easy thing to say, but just go for it,” Ms. Rutherford says. “If you don’t try and see how high you can fly, then you’ll never know.”
Ms. Rutherford is now in Nome, Alaska – the halfway point of her trip. She’s had some delays and is a little behind schedule. Right now, she’s waiting for the papers she needs to fly to Russia. But her attitude is still upbeat. “As long as I’m home before Christmas, I’m happy,” she says.