A British-Belgian teenager has become the youngest woman to fly solo around the globe and the first person to do it in a microlight plane after a five-month, five-continent odyssey in her Shark ultralight.
Nineteen-year-old Zara Rutherford landed back at Kortrijk-Wevelgem Airport in Belgium after flying 51,000 kilometres over 52 countries since her August 18 departure in the world’s fastest microlight aircraft.
After she was escorted by a four-plane formation in a huge V across much of Belgium, she did a flyby of the airport before finally landing.
After waving to the jubilant crowds, she embraced her parents and draped herself both in the Union Jack and Belgian tricolour flag.
“I wouldn’t do it again,” she confessed after the penultimate leg to a German village on Wednesday.
“There’s been amazing moments but then there’s been moments where I had fear for my life,” she added, picking New York and an active volcano in Iceland as her favourite flyovers.
After North and South America, Ms Rutherford was stuck for a month in Alaska because of weather and visa delays.
A winter storm forced another long stop in far eastern Russia before she travelled to south Asia, the Middle East and back to Europe.
To meet criteria for a round-the-world flight, Ms Rutherford touched two points opposite each other on the globe: Jambi in Indonesia and Tumaco in Colombia.
She took the record from Afghan-born US citizen Shaesta Wais, who in 2017 became the youngest woman to fly solo round the world at 30.
The youngest male record holder, Mason Andrews of the US, was 18 when he did it in 2018.
Ms Rutherford also became the first Belgian to circumnavigate the world solo in a single-engine aircraft.
Having gained her pilot’s licence in 2020 after training with her father since 14, she now wants to study engineering at an American or British university from September.
Ms Rutherford dreams of being an astronaut and hopes her voyage will encourage women in science, technology and aviation.
“Boys learn through toys, street names, history classes and movies that they can be scientists, astronauts, CEOs or presidents,” she said on her website.
“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.”