Teenage pilot takes off in bid to become youngest woman to fly around world solo

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A teenager aiming to be the youngest woman ever to fly around the world solo has begun her journey.

Zara Rutherford, 19, left Belgium on Wednesday for the trip, which will span five continents and 52 countries.

Her trip should end early in November, and according to her website, if completed will make her the youngest woman to circumnavigate the globe solo, and the youngest person to do so in a microlight aircraft.

Miss Rutherford has both British and Belgian nationality and is following in the footsteps of her parents, who are both pilots.

She studied at St Swithun’s School, Winchester, Hampshire, and the solo trip is her gap year project before she goes to university, where she plans to study computer science or computer engineering, with the long-term ambition of becoming an astronaut.

Miss Rutherford will be flying a Shark Ultralight, the world’s fastest light sport aircraft, for the self-funded record attempt.

Belgian-British teenager Zara Rutherford speaks on the tarmac in front of her Shark Ultralight plane prior to take-off at the Kortrijk-Wevelgem airfield in Wevelgem, Belgium
Zara Rutherford in front of her Shark Ultralight plane prior to take-off at the Kortrijk-Wevelgem airfield in Wevelgem, Belgium (Virginia Mayo/AP)

The spare seat has been removed to accommodate an extra fuel tank and to avoid any questions about another person flying with her.

Speaking to the PA news agency when she announced the project in July, Miss Rutherford said: “At first I was planning to fly around the world as an adventure during my gap year, not realising I would become the youngest woman to do so if I achieved it.

“It was only when I started researching more that I noticed I could be the first Belgian and the youngest woman to solo circumnavigate the globe.

Belgian-British teenager Zara Rutherford takes off in her Shark Ultralight plane at the Kortrijk-Wevelgem airfield in Wevelgem, Belgium
Zara Rutherford takes off at the Kortrijk-Wevelgem airfield (Virginia Mayo/AP)

“I’m hoping to get more girls interested in aviation.”

The route will take her through the UK, Iceland, Greenland, Canada, the US and Latin America to Colombia, then back north via Alaska to Russia, China, Indonesia, India and the Middle East before ending in Belgium.

The current female record holder is American Shaesta Waiz, who was 30 at the time of her circumnavigation in 2017, while the youngest male record-holder was 18 years old.

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