Zara Rutherford (Belgium) is officially the youngest person to circumnavigate the world by aircraft solo (female), completing her flight around the world at 19 years and 199 days.
The teen pilot from Brussels went to amazing lengths to pursue her dreams, and completed the circumnavigation of the globe on Thursday, 20 January 2022.
During her attempt, Zara also broke the record for the youngest person to circumnavigate the world solo by microlight.
In 18th of August 2021, Zara launched on a round-the-world mission, flying solo in a tiny airplane.
Through this expedition, Zara aimed to raise media awareness for STEM-related businesses, and hopes to help reduce the gender gap in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics as well as in Aviation.
"Through my round the world trip I’m hoping to encourage other girls to start flying too or (/and) enter STEM related careers. Only 5% of commercial pilots are women, and 15% of computer scientists are women! That’s an extremely low number considering these are amazing careers with wonderful opportunities." – Zara Rutherford on her website
Zara also caught the eye of Holly and Richard Branson, who decided to sponsor the trip through his company the Virgin Group.
Richard met Zara during her trip before she took off for Colombia.
"I can’t emphasis enough how heroic her journey is, and how important it is to encourage all young people to follow their dreams and see how exciting a career in STEM can be," wrote the founder of the Virgin Group on his blog.
Zara’s route spanned across 52 countries and 5 continents, with various stops and a specially prepped aircraft to withstand the circumnavigation.
Her journey started in Belgium, then headed west.
During her initial route she has travelled above UK, Iceland, Greenland, Canada, USA, Latin America to Colombia. Then, Zara headed north.
During her return trip, she has flown above Alaska, Russia, Korea, Indonesia, India, the Middle East, and landed in Belgium, Europe, after six long months.
Throughout the whole journey, Zara wasn't allowed to fly at night.
The 19-year-old pilot faced great challenges and weather disruptions, to the point of being forced to stay in Russia for a week while she waited for a good weather window.
However, she took the chance to document her trip and the people she met along the way, further exposing her attempt to encourage more girls to pursue a career in STEM.
A vital part of this attempt is the aircraft: a high-performance, innovative model called Shark Aero.
This Europe-made ultralight model has two seats and was designed as a fast cross-country airplane.
Reaching a cruising speed of 300 km/h and prepared for the unusual journey, the aircraft allowed Zara to travel fast and steady through several countries.
She was also trained on how to abandon the aircraft in an emergency and it was equipped with a parachute.
Conquering a Guinness World Records title is a great achievement for Zara, but it was far from an easy task.
Zara first flew a plane by herself when she was 18, but she was always set on completing this adventure.
"I’ve wanted to do it for a long time, but only decided to do it in May 2021!"
It took the teenager three full months of focused preparation to achieve this milestone.
Zara's first time on a plane goes back to when she was only four months old.
But the passion for aviation and the sky seems to flow in her veins. The teenager reported that everybody in her family can fly a plane, and they are all very supportive of her quest.
"Even my three years younger brother is a qualified pilot." - Zara
The record for the youngest person to circumnavigate the world by aircraft solo (female) previously belonged to Shaesta Waiz (US), who broke it in 2017 when she was 30.
Zara stopped by Jacksonville to meet her and documented the encounter on her Instagram account, @FlyZolo, encouraging healthy competition and mutual support.
With her success, 19-year-old Zara closes the age gap with the current holder of the Guinness World Records title for youngest person to circumnavigate by aircraft, solo, Travis Ludlow.
Travis was 18 when, in 2021, he completed his solo flight and earned the record title.
She is not sure yet if she’ll attempt more records but, without doubt, we are eager to see the jaw-dropping journeys Zara will successfully complete in the future.