British-Belgian teen becomes youngest woman to fly solo round the world

epa09695243 Belgian-British pilot Zara Rutherford waves upon landing at Egelsbach Airport near Frankfurt am Main, Germany, 19 January 2022. Zara, 19, seeks to break the Guinness World Record for being the youngest person to fly solo around the world in a microlight. Her journey began in August 2021 in a Shark Aero ultralight aircraft departing from Belgium and heading west. EPA-EFE/CONSTANTIN ZINN

By Reuters

WEVELGEM, Belgium, Jan 20 (Reuters) – A British-Belgian teenager became the youngest woman to fly solo around the globe on Thursday and the first person to do it in a microlight plane after a five-month, five-continent odyssey in her Shark ultralight.

Nineteen-year-old Zara Rutherford landed back at Kortrijk-Wevelgem Airport in Belgium after flying 51,000 km (32,000 miles) over 52 nations since her Aug. 18 departure in the world’s fastest microlight aircraft.

“I wouldn’t do it again,” she confessed after the penultimate leg to a German village on Wednesday.

“There’s been amazing moments, but then there’s been moments where I had fear for my life,” she added, picking New York and an active volcano in Iceland as her favourite flyovers.

After North and South America, Rutherford was stuck for a month in Alaska because of weather and visa delays. A winter storm forced another long stop in far eastern Russia, before she travelled to South Asia, the Middle East and back to Europe.

To meet criteria for a round-the-world flight, Rutherford touched two points opposite each other on the globe: Jambi in Indonesia and Tumaco in Colombia.

‘YOUNG WOMEN CAN BE AMBITIOUS’

She took the record from Afghan-born American Shaesta Wais, who in 2017 became the youngest woman to fly solo round the world at 30. The youngest male record holder, American Mason Andrews, was 18 when he did it in 2018.

Rutherford also became the first Belgian to circumnavigate the world solo in a single-engine aircraft.

Having gained her pilot’s licence in 2020 after training with her father since 14, she now wants to study engineering at a U.S. or British university from September.

Rutherford dreams of being an astronaut and hopes her voyage will encourage women in science, technology and aviation.

“Boys learn through toys, street names, history classes and movies that they can be scientists, astronauts, CEOs or presidents,” she said on her website.

“Girls are often encouraged to be beautiful, kind, helpful and sweet. With my flight I want to show young women that they can be bold, ambitious and make their dreams come true.”

By Christian Levaux and Johnny Cotton.

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