At 19, She's Inspiring New Generation of Women to Fly

Belgium-British teen Zara Rutherford becomes youngest woman to fly solo around the world
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 20, 2022 12:50 PM CST
At 19, She's Youngest Woman to Fly Solo Around the World
Belgium-British teenage pilot Zara Rutherford holds up her world record certificates after landing her Shark ultralight plane at the Kortrijk airport in Kortrijk, Belgium, on Thursday.   (AP Photo/Geert Vanden Wijngaert)

Zara Rutherford just completed a string of firsts. Foremost, the British-Belgian dual citizen, who got her first pilot license in 2020, became the youngest woman to fly around the world solo on Thursday. At just 19, she beat the record held by American Shaesta Waiz, who was 30 when she circumnavigated the globe alone in 2017. Rutherford, who met Waiz during one of 60 stops on the 32,300-mile trip that began Aug. 18, also became the first woman to circumnavigate the world in a microlight aircraft and the first Belgian to fly around the world solo, CNN reports. It wasn't exactly easy, and not just because of encounters with wildfire smoke in California and an earthquake in Mexico.

The trip took two months longer than anticipated due to delays caused by weather, visa, and equipment issues. There was a month-long hold-up in Nome, Alaska; a weeklong stopover in Magadan, Russia; and another three-week layover in Russia's Ayan region. Rutherford complained of temperatures of -31 degrees Fahrenheit in Siberia but at the time noted she was keeping busy "applying to universities and keeping the plane ready to go," per the BBC. (She plans to study computer engineering in September.) Bad weather on her final leg pushed Rutherford's completion date back another week, per CNN. But she was all smiles upon landing Thursday at Belgium's Kortrijk-Wevelgem Airport.

"I made it," the daughter of two pilots exclaimed. "It's just really crazy, I haven't quite processed it." The trip raised funds for Waiz's nonprofit, Dreams Soar, and Girls Who Code, both of which support women and girls in STEM fields. Rutherford said she wanted to inspire more women to get into flying as just 5% of airline pilots around the world are women. "If you don't try and see how high you can fly, then you'll never know," Rutherford said, per CNN. A teacher at her alma mater in Winchester, England, tells the BBC that the teen has already inspired 50 of its students to take to the air. "I am sure that her example will serve as inspiration for many more young women around the world." (More uplifting news stories.)

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