Zara Rutherford in her Shark microlight, Source: Beatrice De Smet / Fly Zolo

Zara Rutherford’s globe-circumnavigating triumph

Zara Rutherford’s globe-circumnavigating triumph

The 19-year old became the youngest woman to overfly the world solo with a microlight aircraft

Zara Rutherford landed yesterday safely back at Belgium’s Kortrijk-Wevelgem Airport from which the 19-year old took off on 18 August in her daring bid to overfly the globe alone. Zara’s 51,000 km-long solo adventure over 52 nations on five continents took five months instead of four, as it was plagued by numerous delays due to bad weather, technical issues, visa expiration in Russia and a ban to fly over China which led to the route’s extension.

Inspiring odyssey with many dangers

Completing her challenge, Zara set three records at once. She beat the 2017 Guinness Book record of American Shaesta Waiz, aged 30 at the time, in becoming the youngest woman to fly solo around the world.

Rutherford also became the first Belgian to circumnavigate the globe alone by air and the first person (regardless of gender) to do it in a microlight plane (Shark UL, the world’s fastest light-sport aircraft). The Belgian-British teenager has almost evened the scales with the current male record holder, British Travis Ludlow, who was 18 when he finished his solo round-the-world flight in July 2021 in a Cessna 172R plane.

Triumphant and smiling behind her tea shades, Zara nevertheless confided to the press that she would not attempt to repeat her feat, as beside the many amazing experiences there were moments when she feared for her life. One such was during her flight over Siberia in freezing temperatures when a possible engine malfunction would have meant she would surely die as rescuers could be hours away from any emergency landing site.

To minimize the risks, Zara stuck to a flying schedule of a maximum of 8 hours during the day only, steering clear of clouds and routes over water, whenever possible. Apart from danger, loneliness was a strong psychological factor, as she often had to make stops at deserted places, including Siberia and Alaska.

Young woman with a great cause

But wherever people were present, Zara said she received a very warm treatment, in spite of locals observing Covid-19 restrictions and often knowing nothing about her project. What dissipated Zara’s loneliness further was the awareness of a strong multi-national support by her team, including her British father and Belgian mother, the plane’s builder – Slovak company SHARK.AERO, and the sponsors, the main one being ICDSoft, a Bulgarian IT company.

As the web hosting company emphasizes: “Our team puts passion into everything we do – besides providing a great experience for our customers by going the extra mile, many of our team members are involved in various social and environmental projects. So we fully understand and support the passion of a young woman with a great cause – gender equality, who also wants to encourage young people to take up air sports. Go, Zara!”

Concerned about carbon footprint

At a press conference at Sofia Airport near the end of her journey, Zara wished she had undertaken it with an electric aircraft to bring the negative eco-impact down to zero. While  such a technology is still not utilized in long-haul flights, she praised her Shark single-engine plane for spending only 20 l of fuel per hour, which meant that the overall consumption for the length of her journey equalled a 10-minute flight by a Boeing 747.  

Role models

With her record-breaking endeavour, Zara Rutherford seems to have achieved her ambition, inspiring girls to pursue careers in flying and seek STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) opportunities. But even as she needs to complete her university education, she aims much higher, figuratively and literally - taking her flight skills to outer space. Zara cites Soviet cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova, who in 1963 became the first and youngest woman performing a space mission, as her role model. With Richard Branson among the sponsors of Zara’s global circumnavigation attempt, that dream may be not that far from fruition. 



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