Zara Rutherford becomes youngest woman to fly solo around the world

Beatrice de Smet

Five months after the beginning of her journey, 19-year-old Zara Rutherford landed in her home airport of Kortrijk (KJK) in Belgium on January 20, 2022. By doing so, she became the youngest woman to fly solo around the world in a single-engine aircraft.  

Her expedition started on August 18, 2021, when she took off from Kortrijk airport, flying her Shark ultralight.  

Designed by the Slovak company Shark Aero, the two-seater aircraft holds the world speed record for an ultralight, after having reached a top speed of 300 kilometers per hour (185 miles per hour).  

Taking off from Belgium, Rutherford flew to the United Kingdom, before hopping from Iceland, to Greenland, and finally reaching Canada after an 8.5-hour flight.  

The journey was supposed to end in November 2021. But technical, administrative, and pandemic-related issues decided otherwise. 

Guinness World Record guidelines state that people circumnavigating the globe must pass through two approximate antipodal points. 

After circling around the American continent to reach her first antipodal point in Colombia, Rutherford was due to cross the Bering Strait and continue her journey into Russia. But due to visa problems and poor weather conditions, she was held for a month in Alaska. 

Once her crossing was secured, she flew down towards southeast Asia to reach her second antipodal in Indonesia on December 21, 2021. From there, she crossed the Eurasian continent with a leg in Alexandria, Egypt, and arrived in Europe on January 9, 2021.  

Initially, Rutherford was due to complete the last leg of her world tour between Frankfurt-Egelsbach Airport and Kortrijk on January 18, 2021. But the adventurous pilot was forced to delay her trip one last time over inclement weather conditions, and she had to spend two days in Prague. 

The first woman to fly solo around the world was Geraldine ‘Jerrie’ Mock, a housewife from Columbus, Ohio. In 1964, Mock completed the 23,103-mile flight in 29 days 11 hours 59 minutes.  

Zara Rutherford takes the record away from Shaesta Waiz, who circumnavigated the globe solo at age 30 in 2017. The two record-breakers met during Rutherford’s journey in August 2021 in Washington-Warren Airport (OCW), United States. 

“Only 5% of commercial pilots and 15% of computer scientists are women,” Zara Rutherford commented. “In both areas – aviation and STEM – the gender gap is huge. But during my journey, I met many incredible, talented women – pilots, engineers, car racers. I believe together we can make a real change. We can encourage other women to be bold, ambitious, and pursue their dreams.”

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