19-Year-Old Becomes Youngest Woman to Fly Around the World Solo

by Amanda Glover
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Teenage pilot Zara Rutherford became the youngest woman to fly around the world by herself.

The 19-year-old has dual citizenship in Belgium and the United Kingdom. On Thursday, January 21, the confident teen landed at Kortrijk-Wevelgem Airport in western Belgium. She finished an incredible 41-country trip and broke two Guinness World Records while doing so.

After receiving a joyful welcome when she arrived, she announced her arrival to reporters. “I made it!”

Rutherford beat the record for youngest female pilot held by American Shaesta Waiz. At 30-years-old, Waiz circumnavigated the globe by herself in 2017. Rutherford also now earned the title of the first woman to circumnavigate the world in a microlight aircraft. She is also the first Belgian to fly around the world unaccompanied.

Although the world’s youngest pilot is quite an honor, it hasn’t come without challenges.

On August 18, 2021, Rutherford departed in a personalized Shark ultralight aircraft. However, she assumed her journey through the sky would take around three months. Her setbacks included “visa and weather issues.” These issues caused month-long delays in Alaska and Russia that set her back eight weeks.

“I would say the hardest part was definitely flying over Siberia. It was extremely cold. It was minus 35 degrees Celsius on the ground,” Rutherford said during a press conference on Thursday once she returned. “If the engine were to stall, I’d be hours away from rescue and I don’t know how long I could have survived for.”

Rutherford was forced to make an unplanned landing in Redding, California due to poor visibility as a result of the wildfires in the Seattle area. She was also later denied permission to fly over China.

Pilot’s Experiences On Her Epic Journey

As incredible as her solo journey was, it did not fully come without complications.

“I was hoping to complete it by Christmas but I guess that’s not happening anymore. But it’s an adventure,” Rutherford told reporters at Gimpo International Airport in Seoul, South Korea after arriving from Vladivostok on December 13.

Due to COVID-19 restrictions, Rutherford couldn’t explore many destinations on land. These locations included Singapore, Greece, Egypt, Russia, and South Korea.

Unfortunately, the final location of her journey was plagued by bad weather. This moved her completion date back another week.

Zara Rutherford: Before Becoming the World’s Youngest Female Pilot

Currently, the world’s youngest female pilot is taking a gap year. However, she plans to go to college in September 2022 to study computer engineering. Although both of her parents are pilots and she has been learning to fly since she was 14-years-old, Rutherford didn’t get her first license until 2020.

Last year, Rutherford discussed her disappointment at the fact that just 5.1% of airline pilots around the globe are women, according to figures from the International Society of Women Airline Pilots. The young pilot discussed her findings with CNN last year.

“[5%] is such a small number, considering it’s a career where you basically get paid to travel around the world — obviously it’s work, but it’s an amazing career with amazing opportunities.”

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