British-Belgian Teen Becomes Youngest Woman to Fly Solo Around the World

WEVELGEM, Belgium (Reuters) —
Belgian-British pilot Zara Rutherford arrives at Kortrijk-Wevelgem Airport, after a round-the-world trip in a light aircraft, becoming the youngest female pilot to circle the planet alone, in Wevelgem, Belgium, Thursday. (REUTERS/Pascal Rossignol)

A British-Belgian teenager became the youngest woman to fly solo around the globe on Thursday and the first person to do so in a microlight plane after a five-month, five-continent odyssey in her Shark ultralight.

Nineteen-year-old Zara Rutherford landed back at Kortrijk-Wevelgem Airport in Belgium after flying 51,000 km (32,000 miles) over 52 nations since her Aug. 18 departure in the world’s fastest microlight aircraft.

Cheers and applause went up as her plane came to a halt on the tarmac.

“It’s just really crazy, I haven’t quite processed it,” Rutherford, smiling broadly and cloaked in British and Belgian flags, told reporters.

After the penultimate leg to a German village on Wednesday, she said it was an exploit she would never repeat.

“There’s been amazing moments, but then there’s been moments where I had fear for my life,” she added, picking New York and an active volcano in Iceland as her favorite flyovers.

After North and South America, Rutherford was stuck for a month in Alaska because of weather and visa delays. A winter storm forced another long stop in far eastern Russia, before she traveled to South Asia, the Middle East and back to Europe.

To meet criteria for a round-the-world flight, Rutherford touched two points opposite each other on the globe: Jambi in Indonesia and Tumaco in Colombia.

She took the record from Afghan-born American Shaesta Wais, who in 2017 became the youngest woman to fly solo round the world at 30. The youngest male record holder, American Mason Andrews, was 18 when he did it in 2018.

Rutherford also became the first Belgian to circumnavigate the world solo in a single-engine aircraft.

The teenager said the last leg of her journey, from Germany, had been tricky because rain and snow meant she had to “wiggle in some valleys” coming out of Frankfurt, but was delighted to be accompanied by light aircraft of the Belgian Air Force’s Red Devils aerobatic display team for the final stretch.

Switching between French, Dutch and English as reporters fired questions, Rutherford said she was now looking forward to spending time with her family and getting to see her cats.

Having gained her pilot’s license in 2020 after training with her father since 14, she now wants to study engineering at a U.S. or British university from September.

Rutherford dreams of being an astronaut and hopes her voyage will encourage women in science, technology and aviation.

 

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