Teen Pilot Sets World Record As Youngest Woman to Fly Around the Globe Solo

Meet 19-year-old Zara Rutherford.

Belgian-British teenage pilot Zara Rutherford, aboard her a Shark ultralight, holds certificates after landing back at the end of her solo round-the-world trip in her Belgian home town of Kortrijk
Photo: John Thys/Getty Images

A 19-year-old pilot has just become the youngest woman to fly around the world solo in an ultralight aircraft.

Zara Rutherford made history this week when she landed at Kortrijk-Wevelgem Airport in western Belgium, completing her 32,300-mile journey around the world, CNN reported.

After five months, 41 countries, and several unexpected challenges, Rutherford completed her solo around-the-globe voyage and broke two different Guinness World Records.

A dual citizen of Belgium and the United Kingdom, Rutherford left for her mission on Aug. 18, 2021, believing that her journey around the globe would take about three months. But due to weather and visa issues along the way, her travel time increased by eight weeks for a total of 199 days.

Rutherford also faced issues in California and was forced to make an unscheduled landing due to wildfires in Seattle. She was also denied permission to fly over China, was delayed in both Russia and Alaska, and battled bad weather along the way.

"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 after landing she told CNN. "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."

Throughout her journey, Rutherford flew to destinations like Singapore, Egypt, and Costa Rica. But due to COVID-19 restrictions, she was unable to explore any of the destinations on land.

The teen also became the first Belgian to fly around the world solo and the first woman to circumnavigate the world in a microlight aircraft.

To no one's surprise, both of Rutherford's parents are pilots. And although she began learning to fly when she was 14, she didn't earn her pilot's license until 2020. Rutherford is currently on a gap year and plans to attend university in September to study computer engineering.

The previous record for the youngest woman to circumnavigate the globe solo was held by Shaesta Waiz, who set the record in 2017 when she was 30 years old.

Cailey Rizzo is a contributing writer for Travel + Leisure, currently based in Brooklyn. You can find her on Twitter, Instagram, or at caileyrizzo.com.

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