On January 20, 2022, Zara Rutherford landed her two-seat ultralight aircraft on the tarmac in Wevelgem, Belgium.
She’d left Belgium 155 days earlier on a mission to fly solo around the world. At the time, she expected the journey to take just 3 months, but she ran into hurdles along the way that extended the trip. Nevertheless, the 19-year-old aviator returned to her home country as a world record holder several times over!
Zara’s accomplishment set two new Guinness World Records. She’s now the youngest woman to fly around the world solo and the first woman to circumnavigate the world in a microlight aircraft, along with being the first Belgian to fly around the world alone. She hopes her success will inspire other girls to pursue careers in aviation. In fact, she supported two charities on her trip: Dreams Soar, a nonprofit that supports women and girls in STEM, and Girls Who Code, a charity that helps women in computer science fields.
Over the course of 155 days, Zara traveled more than 32,000 miles and flew over 41 countries. She encountered visa and weather delays that held her up for weeks on end in places like Russia and Alaska, but she never gave up or lost hope!
“I would say the hardest part was definitely flying over Siberia — it was extremely cold. It was minus 35 degrees Celsius [-31 Fahrenheit] on the ground,” Zara recalled. “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.”
Zara grew up in aviation. Both of her parents are pilots, and she started learning how to fly when she was just 14. Still, it wasn’t until 2020 when she decided to get her pilot’s license. Just two years later, she’s a world record holder!
Zara’s aircraft was custom made for her. Shark Aero provided the plane, which was fitted with a second radio and an extra fuel tank to accommodate her long journey. The plane travels at 140 knots, or about 160 miles per hour, and comes with an integrated parachute in case of emergencies.
A crowd of reporters and well wishers had gathered at the airport to welcome Zara home. “I made it,” she told them, all smiles. She plans to study computer engineering in the fall, and she’s eager to spread her message that women should reach for the stars — literally!
“It’s an easy thing to say, but just go for it,” she said. “If you don’t try and see how high you can fly, then you’ll never know.”
Way to go, Zara! It’s hard to imagine being so young yet so capable. We hope her message reaches many young people who never even knew aviation was an option for them. Her success is bound to pave the way for many generations to come.
Share this message to congratulate this incredible teenager for her successful trip around the world.
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