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Teenage aviator completes record-breaking flight around the world

Zara Rutherford lands in Kortrijk after solo circumnavigation
15:24 20/01/2022

British-Belgian pilot Zara Rutherford became the first Belgian and the youngest woman to fly solo around the world when she landed her Shark ultralight plane in Kortrijk-Wevelgem on Thursday afternoon.

The 19-year-old student completed the 60,000km circumnavigation in five months, two months later than planned due to bad weather conditions.

She touched down at the Belgian airport at 13.00 accompanied by four aircraft from the Belgian Red Devils aerobatic display team. Her family, well-wishers and journalists were waiting to welcome her.

Rutherford told reporters she was really happy to have arrived. “It’s been five months so it’s really strange to be back here and it’s been four months since I’ve seen my parents.”

Since her departure from Kortrijk on 18 September, she has flown over 50 countries, making 60 stops. Steering clear of wildfires in California and North Korean flight space, she was blocked for 41 days in Russia and one month in Alaska.

The Brussels-born aviator, who was educated in the UK, embarked on the self-funded challenge during her gap year. She plans on studying computer science/computer engineering at university. One of her goals is to inspire other girls to embark on STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) occupations.

Both of Rutherford’s parent are pilots and she started learning to fly when she was 14, obtaining her licence in 2020. Her mother is Belgian and her father is a former British army pilot who was stationed in Belgium.

The previous solo record was held by American pilot Shaesta Waiz, who was 30 when she completed her circumnavigation in 2017. The youngest male pilot to fly solo around the world is 18-year-old Travis Ludlow from the UK.

Photo: (c) Belga

Written by Sarah Crew