19-year-old Zara Rutherford recently set a world record as the youngest woman to fly solo around the world. The trip took 155 days and broke the previous record, which was set by 30-year-old American Shaesta Waiz in 2017.
Rutherford touched down in her home country of Belgium and dedicated her record-setting flight to all young women trying to succeed in male-dominated industries like aviation and science. She holds dual British/Belgian citizenship and plans to go to college in Britain or the United States in the fall to study electrical engineering.
Rutherford comes from an aviation family – both her parents are pilots and she has been traveling in small planes since she was 6. She began flying at age 14. Soon after, she began dreaming of a flight around the world.
“But I never thought it would be possible. I thought that it is too difficult, too dangerous, too expensive,” she told the Associated Press.
Sponsorships and monetary contributions from public paid for her daring flight around the world and into the record books. Rutherford mustered up all the courage needed to make such a long, dangerous journey by herself at an age when most of her peers were working entry-level jobs or going to college.
Rutherford timed her flight to fit into her schedule between high school and her first year of college.
“I thought, actually, this is the perfect opportunity to do something crazy and fly around the world,” she told AP.
The teenager said she wants to inspire young women and girls around the globe with the spirit of aviation and an enthusiasm for fields of study that support it, such as science, mathematics, engineering, and technology.
“Go for it. It takes a lot of time, patience, a lot of work, but it is incredible,” she said of her adventure.
During her journey, Rutherford survived the frozen tundra in Siberia, typhoons in the Philippines, and the barren Arabian desert. Her one-seater Shark microlight plane filled with the stench of California wildfires. She often flew in complete solitude over seas or empty land, hours away from any potential rescue or help. Rutherford spent weeks isolated in a tiny Siberian village with barely any contact with her family or the outside world.
All total, Rutherford covered 28,000 nautical miles, touched down on five continents and visited 41 nations. She narrowly avoided North Korean airspace and flew by Visual Flight Rules, meaning she navigated by sight only. This made her progress slower than if she’d used sophisticated guiding systems that could have led her through clouds and fog. Her journey was further slowed by bouts of bad weather and visa issues that kept her grounded longer than planned at times.
When she finally touched down in Belgium, her family was especially grateful.
“We will celebrate this by being as a family together, at first,” said her mother, Beatrice. “I think Zara wants to celebrate by sleeping about two weesks.”