Making memories of outstanding aviator Amelia Earhart come to life again, 19-year-old Zara Rutherford has become the youngest woman to fly solo across the world. In India, in 2019, Mumbai girl Aarohi Pandit held the distinction of being the first woman pilot to cross both the Atlantic Ocean and the Pacific Ocean solo in a Light Sports Aircraft.
Rutherford’s achievement is inspiring, because, in her own words, “Boys learn through toys, street names, history classes and movies that they can be scientists, astronauts, CEOs or presidents. Girls are often encouraged to be beautiful, kind, helpful and sweet. With my flight I want to show young women that they can be bold, ambitious and make their dreams come true.”
Bold and ambitious indeed.
Rutherford took off on the 18th of August 2021 on a journey to fly solo around the world in a Shark ultralight aircraft. “On the 20th of January 2022, 155 days later, I landed back in Wevelgem, Belgium,” she says. “With this successful circumnavigation, I am happy not only to break the Guinness World Record of youngest woman flying solo around the world, but also to reduce the gender gap by 11 years between the current youngest male record holder Travis Ludlow, 18 at the time of his record, and the previous female record holder Shaesta Waez, who was 30 when she completed her ‘Dreams Soar’ around-the-world flight.”
According to her, “Not only am I hoping to reduce the gender gap in Aviation and Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM), but also to encourage girls and young women to pursue their dreams.”
On 18th of August, Rutherford set off from Belgium, heading west. Her route included the UK, Iceland, Greenland, Canada, USA, Latin America to Colombia, then back north via Alaska, to Russia, Korea, Indonesia, India, the Middle East, Europe and back to Belgium.
She flew around the world in a Shark Aero, a high-performance two seat tandem ultralight aircraft with retractable gear, a smaller wing, a variable-pitch propeller and first class comfortable cockpit interior. “It is a high-performance ultralight aircraft manufactured in Europe. It is incredibly fast with cruising speed reaching 300 km/h. The aircraft has been specially prepared for such a long journey,” says Rutherford.
The seminal contributor to her maiden solo trip, Shark was designed and constructed as a fast cross-country airplane, built on innovative design and new technologies. Rutherford’s website provides all the details about the Shark aircraft, including these technical specifications: “Shark is powered by a ROTAX 912 ULS 100 hp engine running a WOODCOMP 2-blade adjustable propeller. It combines low operating costs, a long range (1600 km), exceptional speed (optimum cruising speed of 140 knots), a long service life and access to any public airport….keeping operational cost to a minimum.”
With her journey, Rutherford has attempted to break the following two Guinness World Records:
- Youngest woman to fly solo around the world. The current record-holder, Shaesta Waez, was 30 when she completed her ‘Dreams Soar’ around-the-world flight in a single-engine aircraft in 2017
- First woman to circumnavigate the world in a microlight.
She will additionally be the first ever Belgian to circumnavigate the world solo by air.
Rutherford’s accomplishment is notable and exhilarating as she flew solo across 52 countries, five continents and 52,000 kilometres amid challenging weather conditions and terrain anomalies.
When she first set out on her flight course, she had hoped to be back home by Christmas. However, bad weather and visa hold-ups got in her way. Along the way, she had to spend weeks isolated in Ayan, a tiny Siberian village with barely any contact with the outside world. At one point, she needed to steer clear of wildfires in California, as the stench of the flames filled up her plane. She also had to charge through biting cold weather in Russia, carefully avoid North Korean airspace, and account for typhoons in the Philippines, reports NPR.
The aviator flew by Visual Flight Rules, relying on her sight only, which slowed down the progress, when more sophisticated systems could have led her through fog and clouds. Firstpost reports that Rutherford feared for her life and yearned for the comfort of home at different points. “I would say the hardest part was definitely flying over Siberia — it was extremely cold. It was minus 35 degrees Celsius on the ground,” she added as per a report by KESQ News. “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.”
On landing back in Belgium, to public adulation and familial reunion, Rutherford has inspired not just young women but persons across genders and age-profiles to literally making their dreams soar.