A 19-year-old has become the youngest woman to fly solo around the world.
Zara Rutherford landed at Kortrijk-Wevelgem airport in Belgium accompanied by four planes from the Belgian Red Devils aerobatic display team at the end of her 50,000km journey which involved 260 hours of flying.
The teenager, who has both British and Belgian nationality, was greeted by family and friends, who cheered as she arrived in her Shark Ultralight, the world’s fastest light sport aircraft.
She then posed for photos, holding a Union and a Belgian flag.
Miss Rutherford, who said she became obsessed with flying from the age of eight, said she hoped to be an inspiration for girls wanting to be pilots or study science.
She said: “Growing up I didn’t see many other female pilots so right now I am trying to be a friendly face for other girls who want to fly or study Stem subjects and know they are not the only ones.”
Describing the scariest moments of the trip, she said: “There was one time I got a bit of a fright when I was leaving Singapore in a thunderstorm.
“There was a lightning strike and I wasn’t expecting it so that was scary.
“Otherwise flying over Siberia and Alaska – Alaska was very turbulent and it was very tough as I was flying for hundreds and hundreds of kilometres without seeing anything human, no roads, no electricity cables, no people and then during the flight you are thinking if the engine stops I have one big problem.”
Miss Rutherford said her next plan was to go to university in September and added: “I don’t think I will be doing this again exactly but I am looking forward to speaking to people about my experiences, to encourage people to do something crazy with their lives.
“It takes a lot of time, a lot of patience, a lot of work but it is incredible and it is very rewarding.”
She added: “I am very lucky because both my parents are pilots and when I was growing up I was always around airplanes and I thought it would be really cool to fly around the world but I never thought it would be possible.
“I always thought it would be too difficult, too dangerous, too expensive so I never thought much about it and then I was finishing school and thought it was the perfect opportunity to do something crazy and fly around the world.”
— FlyZolo (@fly_zolo) January 18, 2022
Miss Rutherford set off in August for the trip, which was aimed at breaking the records for the youngest woman to circumnavigate the globe solo and the youngest person to do so in a microlight aircraft.
The plane’s spare seat had been removed to accommodate an extra fuel tank and to avoid any questions about another person flying with her.
Miss Rutherford previously studied at St Swithun’s School in Winchester, Hampshire, and the solo trip was 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.
The route took 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 previous female record-holder was American Shaesta Waiz, who was 30 at the time of her circumnavigation in 2017, while the male record-holder is 18.