This Teen Just Became the Youngest Woman to Fly Solo Around the World


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A post shared by Zara Rutherford (@fly.zolo)

As many young girls dream of what they want to become when they grow up, being a pilot is rarely thought to be at the top of the list. But 19-year-old Zara Rutherford is changing the status quo and showing the world that, when it comes to chasing your dreams, not even the sky’s the limit. The daring teen pilot just broke two world records by becoming the youngest female pilot to complete a solo flight around the world and the first woman to circumnavigate the globe in a microlight aircraft. What’s more, she is also the first Belgian to fly around the world completely unaccompanied.

The British Belgian pilot began her journey in Belgium on August 18, 2021, marking a route through the UK, Iceland, Greenland, Canada, the U.S., and Latin America before heading back north through Alaska. From there, she flew through Russia, Korea, Indonesia, India, the Middle East, and Europe before landing once more in Belgium on January 20, 2022. With her arrival, she beat the previous record held by Shaesta Waiz—an American woman who was 30 years old, when she made her own solo flight around the globe back in 2017. And Rutherford even made a special stop to meet her predecessor in Florida during her flight over the U.S. Now, at just 19, the young pilot has reduced the gender age gap by 12 months between herself and the current youngest male record holder, Travis Ludlow, who was 18 when he completed his solo flight in July 2021.

Even though Rutherford has made a triumphant return, her trip didn’t go exactly according to plan. Her high-performance Shark Aero ultralight aircraft was well-equipped for the task and specially prepared and modified to accommodate such a long journey. However, there were several other factors out of the young pilot’s control that extended what she thought would be a three-month trip into an almost six-month odyssey. She was subject to month-long delays in Alaska and Russia due to the weather as well as visa issues, which pushed her schedule back by eight weeks. She was also compelled to make an unscheduled landing in Redding, California, due to poor visibility as a result of the nearby wildfires in Seattle. In addition to those tedious setbacks, she was later denied permission to fly over China.


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A post shared by Zara Rutherford (@fly.zolo)

But none of those obstacles deterred Rutherford from achieving her dream. In fact, she doesn’t even consider those mishaps among the most difficult parts of the journey. “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. “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.”

Nonetheless, for the young female pilot, the most important part of her endeavor was to create more visibility for women in aviation. According to stats from the International Society of Women Airline Pilots (ISA), just 5.1% of airline pilots worldwide are women. “[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,” Rutherford says.

She has used her record-breaking flight as a chance to endorse charities that support women and girls entering STEM fields, including Girls Who Code and Dreams Soar—a nonprofit started by Waiz. Being born herself into a family of aviators, Rutherford has been learning to fly since she was 14 and dreams of one day becoming an astronaut. But for now, she hopes that her own emblematic journey around the world will inspire more women and young girls to consider careers in aviation.

“It's an easy thing to say, but just go for it,” Rutherford encourages. “If you don't try and see how high you can fly, then you'll never know.”

19-year-old Zara Rutherford just became the youngest female pilot to complete a solo flight around the world.


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A post shared by Zara Rutherford (@fly.zolo)

During her trip, she even got to meet her predecessor, Shaesta Waiz, who completed a similar flight when she was 30.


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A post shared by Zara Rutherford (@fly.zolo)

Watch this video to get a closer look at Rutherford's groundbreaking journey.

Zara Rutherford: Website | Instagram | Facebook | Twitter | Youtube
h/t: [A Plus]

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Arnesia Young

Arnesia Young is a contributing writer for My Modern Met and an aspiring art historian. She holds a BA in Art History and Curatorial Studies with a minor in Design from Brigham Young University. With a love and passion for the arts, culture, and all things creative, she finds herself intrigued by the creative process and is constantly seeking new ways to explore and understand it.
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