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Zara Rutherford flies a Shark UL aircraft, Source: Romuschko, Wikipedia, CC BY SA-4.0

Belgian-British teenager flies solo around the world in Slovak plane

Belgian-British teenager flies solo around the world in Slovak plane

Zara Rutherford, 19, aims to break the record of American Shaesta Waiz in becoming the youngest woman to circumnavigate the globe alone

When a teenage girl makes up her mind to fill up her gap year in college by... attempting to fly solo around the world, most parents would be there to intervene. With pilots in the family, 19-year-old Zara Rutherford is a lucky exception.

In the footsteps of mum and dad  

Not without butterflies in their stomachs, Zara’s British father Sam Rutherford and Belgian mother Beatrice de Smet, both of them licensed pilots, attended their daughter’s take-off from Kortrijk in Belgium on 18 August. Zara aims to fly over 52 countries in five continents and cross the equator twice in her trip that could take three months.

Zara is going through the UK, Iceland, Canada, the US and Latin America to Colombia, then back north via Alaska to Russia, China, Indonesia, India and the Middle East, with Belgium as her final stop. The route has been chosen to comply with Guinness World Records’ requirements for a round-the-world flight. You can follow Zara’s progress on her FlyZolo project’s website.

Successful completion of the flight means that Zara would become the youngest woman to overfly the globe alone, and the youngest person to do so in a micro-light aircraft. American Shaesta Waiz, who was 30 at the time of her circumnavigation feat in 2017, holds the current female record. The youngest male record holder, Buckinghamshire native Travis Ludlow, who finished his solo round-the-world flight this July in a 2001 Cessna 172R plane, was 18 years old.  

The Slovak connection

Even without human companions, Zara has a trusted partner in her record-breaking endeavour: Meet Shark UL, the world’s fastest light-sport aircraft, manufactured by SHARK.AERO, a company based in Senica, Slovakia. The firm has been making planes since 2006 and its offspring boasts a series of speed records.

Senica will be one of Zara’s last stops and it is there that she was preparing for her bid, writes The Slovak Spectator. The preparation routine has ranged from maintenance of the plane to dunker training - practising how to get out of an aircraft under water.

Dreams of higher space

Following in the footsteps of her parents, Zara began flight training when she was 14 and obtained her pilot’s licence last year. The former pupil of St Swithun’s School in Winchester (one of the sponsors of the challenge) is using her gap year for this project before enrolling at university to study computer science or computer engineering.

BBC quotes headmistress Jane Gandee describing her former pupil as a "self-deprecating young woman who models determination, initiative and a healthy disregard for stereotypes".

Zara says her aim is to promote flying and STEM opportunities for girls, given that only 5 percent of commercial pilots and 15 percent of computer scientists are women. But she has an even higher ambition - to become an astronaut. Among her role models, she cites Soviet cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova, who in 1963 became the first and youngest woman so far to have fulfilled a solo mission in space.

Tereshkova was 26 at the time. Another record in store for Zara Rutherford?

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