(DailyExpertNews) — Teenage aviator Zara Rutherford is the youngest woman to fly solo around the world.
The 19-year-old, who holds dual British-Belgian nationality, landed on Thursday at Kortrijk-Wevelgem airport in western Belgium, completing an epic 41-country journey spanning more than 52,000 kilometers (32,300 miles), breaking two Guinness World Records. in the process.
Not only has she broken the record set by American Shaesta Waiz, who was 30 when she traveled the world unaccompanied in 2017, Rutherford now also holds the title for the first woman to circumnavigate the world in an ultralight aircraft.
She is also the first Belgian to fly alone around the world.
However, the road to teenage glory has not been without its challenges.
When Rutherford took off in a Shark custom-built ultralight aircraft on August 18, 2021, she thought her escapade from the air would last about three months.
But she’s been plagued by setbacks, including months-long delays in both Alaska and Russia due to “visa and weather problems,” which have pushed her schedule eight weeks.
She also had to make an unscheduled landing in Redding, California due to poor visibility caused by the wildfires in the Seattle area, and was later denied permission to fly over China.
While she has flown to many destinations such as Singapore, Egypt and Greece, along with Russia and South Korea, Rutherford has not been able to explore any of these on-land destinations due to Covid-19 restrictions.
The last leg of her journey was also hit by delays due to bad weather, which meant that her finish date was pushed back another week.
Rutherford is currently on a gap year and plans to enter college in September to study computer engineering. Although both her parents are pilots and she’s been learning to fly since she was 14, Rutherford didn’t get her first license until 2020.
One of her main goals for this challenge, other than breaking Waiz’s record, was to ensure greater visibility for women in aviation.
Last year, Rutherford spoke of her disappointment that only 5.1% of airline pilots around the world are women, according to figures from the International Society of Women Airline Pilots (ISA).
Rutherford has supported two charities during her journey: Girls Who Code, which helps young women enter computer science, and Dreams Soar, a nonprofit founded by Waiz, which supports women and girls entering STEM areas.
She hopes her high-profile journey will encourage more young girls and women to consider careers in aviation.
“It’s easy to say, but go for it,” added Rutherford. “If you don’t try to see how high you can fly, you’ll never know.”
The two-seat ultralight aircraft she completed the trip in was provided by Shark Aero, one of the trip’s sponsors, with modifications such as a second radio and an extra fuel tank where the second passenger seat would normally sit.
Rebecca Cairns of DailyExpertNews also contributed to this report.