Youngest Female to Fly Solo Around the World

The majority of 19-year-olds are still learning to drive. Zara Rutherford, on the other hand, had her gaze raised. The British-Belgian teen aspired to be the world’s youngest woman to fly solo around the globe. Rutherford realized a lifelong dream on January 22, 2022, when she successfully landed her two-seat ultralight aircraft at the Kortrijk-Wevelgem Airport in Belgium, where she had left 155 days before. If planes and aircraft interest you, you can learn more about the most famous warplanes in history to add to your collection.

Shaesta Waiz’s five-year record was broken by Rutherford’s historic flight. In 2017, the 30-year-old Afghan-American pilot completed a solo around-the-world flight. The adolescent is also the youngest and first Belgian to fly across the Atlantic Ocean in a microlight plane.

Zara Rutherford is a British-Belgian pilot. After a five-month journey that began in Kortrijk, Belgium, on August 18, 2021, and ended on January 20, 2022. She was the first person to complete a circumnavigation in a microlight aircraft and the youngest female pilot to fly solo around the world.

Microlight Aircraft, Ultralight Aviation

Zara Rutherford is the daughter of Sam Rutherford, a British professional pilot, and Beatrice de Smet, a Belgian recreational pilot, and lawyer. She was born in Brussels, Belgium. Rutherford would travel with her father as a child, sometimes flying part of the way herself. Aside from Amelia Earhart, a well-known aviator, Zara Rutherford began training to become a pilot at the age of 14 and received her pilot’s license in 2020. At St. Swithun’s School, a girls’ school in Winchester, Hampshire, England, she earned A levels in Mathematics, Further Mathematics, Economics, and Physics.

Zara Rutherford’s Solo Flight Around the World

Rutherford announced her bid to become the youngest female pilot to fly solo around the world at the age of 19 at a press conference at Popham Airfield near Winchester on July 26, 2021. She aimed to beat the previous record set by American pilot Shaesta Waiz, who set it at the age of 30 in 2017. She also attempted to break two other world records: the first woman to circumnavigate the globe in a microlight plane and the first Belgian to circumnavigate the globe solo in a single-engine plane. The attempt was also intended to raise awareness about the gender gap in STEM fields, such as science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, as well as aviation, and to encourage more women and girls to get involved in STEM fields at a young age. Her bid was backed by ICDSoft, a Bulgarian web hosting company, Richard Branson’s Virgin Group, Belgian start-up SafeSky, and TMC Group, Dutch staffing and recruitment firm. She also teamed up with the charities Girls Who Code and Dreams Soar, both of which aim to encourage and assist women and girls to pursue careers in STEM fields. 

Rutherford started her solo attempt on August 18, 2021, from Kortrijk-Wevelgem Airport in Belgium, flying a Shark UL aircraft loaned to her by the Slovakian manufacturer Shark Aero. She flew from Kortrijk to Popham Airfield for an hour before flying to Wick, Scotland, via Aberdeen. She arrived in Reykjavik, Iceland, the next day after a five-hour flight.

Rutherford visited Greenland, Canada, the United States East Coast, the Bahamas, Turks and Caicos, the British Virgin Islands, Colombia, Panama, Costa Rica, Mexico, the United States’ West Coast, and the US state of Alaska after embarking on her journey. She had to wait a week after arriving in Nome, Alaska, on September 30, 2021, for her Russian visa to be renewed. The weather had turned bad by the time her passport arrived from the Russian consulate in Houston, Texas, and she had to wait another three weeks to cross the Bering Strait, time spent in part on maintenance. She arrived in Anadyr, Russia, on November 1, 2021, marking the halfway point of her journey. She flew from Anadyr to Magadan the next day, and on November 9th, she stopped in Ayan, a town of 800 people with no English speakers and no Wi-Fi, where she was stranded again due to a winter storm. She arrived in Khabarovsk on November 30 and in Vladivostok on December 2.

Rutherford had planned to stop in China after flying from Russia on December 11, 2021, but she was forced to take a detour over the Sea of Japan and fly to South Korea instead due to the country’s strict COVID-19 restrictions. She had trouble contacting air traffic controllers in Seoul during the six-hour flight, so she sought the assistance of a KLM commercial pilot, who forwarded her messages to air traffic control and assisted her in finding the correct frequencies. On the same day, she arrived in Gimpo. She left on the 13th of December for a stop in Muan before flying to Taipei, Taiwan the next day. Rutherford arrived in Clark, Pampanga, Philippines, on December 16th. She planned to make a second stop in Dumaguete, but she had to fly to Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia, the next day to avoid Typhoon Rai.

She traveled from Kota Kinabalu to Ketapang and Jakarta in Indonesia, as well as Seletar in Singapore. She flew too close to a thunderstorm on her way to Banda Aceh on December 27 and saw lightning bolts 3 kilometers away. She stopped in Colombo, Sri Lanka, and Coimbatore, India, after Banda Aceh. Rutherford began 2022 with stops in Al Ain, UAE, and Riyadh and Tabuk, Saudi Arabia, where she was greeted by a Saudi prince and former pilot and astronaut Sultan bin Salman Al Saud. She arrived in Heraklion, Greece, on the Greek island of Crete, on January 8, 2022, after a stop in Alexandria, Egypt.

Rutherford made stops in Sofia, Bulgaria, Senica, Slovakia, and Beneov, Czech Republic, on 14 and 16 January 2022, respectively. She arrived in Germany on January 19 at Frankfurt Egelsbach Airport. She completed a circumnavigation of the world on January 20, 2022, in Kortrijk, Belgium, landing at the same airport from which she began the journey. Zara is a member of Racine, Wisconsin’s Experimental Aircraft Association Chapter 838.

Rutherford recalls seeing few women in aviation and computer engineering as a child. Her next mission is to make a difference. “My dream is that in the future if a girl wants to go into aviation or wants to go engineering, it’s not special,” she said. “It’s just like, ‘oh, cool, like, just another person who’s doing a cool thing with their life.’ But it doesn’t matter what gender they are.”