19-year-old woman becomes youngest to complete solo flight around world; included stop on Outer Banks

After rolling to a stop Zara Rutherford waves to the cameras. On the canopy of her plane is a distinctive blue and orange First Flight Centennial sticker given to her when she arrived at Wright Brothers National Memorial in August 2021. [courtesy EuroNews/Youtube]

Zara Rutherford completed her solo flight around the world on Thursday to become the youngest woman, at age 19, to complete the journey that included a stop along the Outer Banks.

She also became the first woman to circumnavigate the world in a microlight aircraft, and is the first Belgian to fly around the world solo.

Rutherford breaks the previous record held by American Shaesta Waiz, who was 30 when she circumnavigated the globe alone in 2017.

Her 155-day flight covered 32,300 miles over 33 countries, and included landing on August 29 at Wright Brothers National Memorial in Kill Devil Hills.

Later that day she had to land at the airport in Washington, N.C., before continuing to Jacksonville, Florida, where she met the previous record holder.

When Rutherford departed Belgium on August 18, 2021 in a bespoke Shark ultralight aircraft, she believed her aerial escapade would take about three months, CNN reports.

But she was plagued by setbacks, including month-long delays in both Alaska and Russia due to “visa and weather issues,” pushing her schedule back eight weeks.

“I would say the hardest part was definitely flying over Siberia — it was extremely cold. It was minus 35 degrees Celsius on the ground,” Rutherford said during a press conference on Thursday.

“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.”
She was also forced to make an unscheduled landing in Redding, California due to poor visibility as a result of the wildfires in the Seattle area and was later denied permission to fly over China.

“I was hoping to complete it by Christmas but I guess that’s not happening anymore,” Rutherford told reporters at Gimpo International Airport in Seoul, South Korea after arriving from Vladivostok on December 13. “But it’s an adventure.”

While she’s flown to an array of destinations, such as Singapore, Egypt and Greece, along with Russia and South Korea, Rutherford has been unable to explore any of them on land due to Covid-19 restrictions.

The final leg of her journey was also hit with delays due to bad weather, which meant her completion date was moved back another week.

Rutherford is currently on a gap year and plans to go to university in September to study computer engineering. Although both of her parents are pilots and she has been learning to fly since she was 14, Rutherford didn’t get her first license until 2020.

One of her main aims for this challenge, aside from breaking Waiz’s record, was to ensure greater visibility for women in aviation.

Last year, Rutherford spoke of her disappointment at the fact that just 5.1% of airline pilots around the globe are women, according to figures from the International Society of Women Airline Pilots (ISA).

“[5%] is such a small number, considering it’s a career where you basically get paid to travel around the world — obviously it’s work, but it’s an amazing career with amazing opportunities,” she told CNN.

Video of Rutherford’s arrival and post-flight activities:

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Video of the post-flight press conference: