Bad weather slowed her down a bit, but Zara Rutherford finished her solo around-the-world microlight flight, earning two Guinness Records!
“If I’m going to do something crazy with my life, this is the perfect time to do it”
Zara has said that flying around the world alone is a thought she had early on in her flying career. She actually started flying aged 14, with her parents helping her along the way. Then when she finished school, she says she had the thought above. And so, her dream to fly around the world started taking shape.
Raw numbers don’t really convey the preparations that Zara Rutherford had to make, for her trip. For instance, she made several long, overwater flights in the months leading up to her journey. And of course, all this took place during a pandemic, with different rules around the world – that often change. After careful planning, she set off for her westbound around-the-world journey, on the 18th of August.
Zara Rutherford ended this monumental trip earlier today. She landed in Kortrijk Wevelgem International Airport (EBKT) in Belgium just after 1 pm local time, after making a fast low pass for the gathered crowds. In the grand scheme of things, the 2-hour leg wasn’t impressive, although it did include some weather challenges. But it was also the most “tracked” flight in the world at that time, on websites like FlightRadar24!
The Numbers – And Antipodes
In all, Zara Rutherford visited 52 countries on 5 different continents. She made 71 takeoffs and landings, for 69 stops – including 10 diversions and 2 returns to the same airfield. Her Shark Aero UL had an extra fuel tank, but her longest single leg is still amazing – microlight or not! It was 2,000 kilometres (1080 nautical miles). Perhaps more amazing is the longest overwater leg: 1,861 km (1,005 nm).
When it was over, Zara Rutherford and her plane had an additional 200 hours of flying time. She covered a total of 28,121 nautical miles (52,080.3 kilometres). And she got two Guinness World Records. They are:
- The youngest woman to fly solo around the world in an aircraft
- The youngest person to fly solo around the world in a microlight aircraft
Zara Rutherford also became the first Belgian to fly solo around the world in an aircraft. To qualify for these records, she had to land at two airports that were antipodal, i.e. at opposite sides of the world to each other. She did this by going to Jambi in Indonesia and Tumaco in Colombia! Along the way, she met many young people (pandemic restrictions-permitting), inspiring other young women like her.
Originally, the plan was to finish the trip before the end of 2021. Alas, the weather got in the way of that. Zara Rutherford was stuck in Alaska for about a month, then almost as long in Russia. But she made these stoppages useful, by planning her life after the trip. She even applied for University while waiting! There were other difficulties along the way. Zara Rutherford recounted how at times she feared for her life, including when she almost had to divert into North Korea due to weather.
Zara Rutherford And Her Next Steps
The plane that Zara used to do all this, was the Shark Aero UL. This two-seater has an optimum cruising speed of 140 knots. Many small planes will fly at such speeds, but not with just a 100-hp Rotax 912ULS engine. Its slippery design and small engine make this plane very frugal with fuel, giving it the necessary range.
So, what’s next? Zara Rutherford says she’s applying to study engineering, starting next September. Obviously, this is a fitting goal, after she promoted women going into aviation and STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics). On the gender topic, Zara has opined that the gender gap is really a “dream gap”:
“…our dreams are shaped from early childhood through the fairy tales and role models we are exposed to. Boys learn through toys, street names, history classes and movies that they can be scientists, astronauts, CEOs or presidents. 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.”
After her journey, Zara Rutherford is planning to spend some time with her family, and her cats. But she’s not done. After her engineering studies, her ultimate goal is to become an astronaut: “Hopefully one day, I’ll be able to go a bit higher!”