17-Year-Old Becomes Youngest to Fly Solo Round the World

A 17-year-old has become the youngest person to fly solo around the world. Mack Rutherford set off from Sofia, Bulgaria, on March 23. Today, five months later, he touched down where he began.

Earlier this year, Rutherford’s sister, Zara, became the youngest woman to fly alone around the world at 19. Their father, Sam, is a professional ferry pilot. Their mother, Beatrice, is a private pilot.

“I have been fortunate to have had a family that has been able to help me progress in my flying,” said Rutherford, a dual citizen of Belgium and the UK. Rutherford is flying a Shark, one of the speediest ultralight aircraft in the world, with a cruising speed of 300kph. It is the same model that his sister used on her record-setting flight. His main sponsor, ICDSoft, loaned him the Shark for the journey.

ultralight plane in flight used by young pilot

Pilot’s license at 15

Rutherford started young. Already at age three, he said he wanted to become a pilot. In 2020, at just 15 years and two months old he achieved his childhood goal by becoming the youngest qualified pilot in the world. With his father, he has completed two trans-Atlantic crossings.

Rutherford has faced sandstorms in the Sudan and extreme heat in Dubai. He dealt with airport closures in India and aircraft electrical failures.

The previous youngest pilot, Travis Ludlow, was 18 on his solo round-the-world flight last year. It took Ludlow 44 days.

When Rutherford left Bulgaria in March, he was just 16. He flew first to Sardinia, then to the Congo, Madagascar, and Mauritius in Africa.

“[Flying] is completely different in many parts of the world,” said Rutherford. “In Africa, I had quite a few problems with visibility, mountains, things like that. When I got to India, it was monsoon season so [there were] big storms…All these different places have different challenges.”

Next, he headed north to the UAE, India, China, South Korea, and Japan. In Unalaska, in the Aleutian Islands, Rutherford needed to make a second attempt at landing.

“To get over the mountains, I was at 7,500 feet. Then suddenly, I had to descend a huge amount because this is basically at sea level. Once I tried to do my approach, I was still too high. I had to go around and try again. The second time I was able to do it.”

He refueled, spent the night and then continued along the West Coast of America to Mexico.

Then Rutherford flew north again along the east coast to Canada, and crossed the Atlantic via Iceland and the UK before landing in Bulgaria.

closeup of young pilot in cockpit

Scariest moment

Rutherford’s hairiest moment was on a Pacific Island.

“After 10 hours, I arrived at this small island, it was starting to get dark, so I landed,” he said. “It was quite low cloud, it was raining, and no lights on the runway. It’s actually an uninhabited island so if anything had gone wrong, I would be on my own…I landed there and had to sleep in a small shed on the side of the runway because it was completely abandoned for over 10 years.”

Rutherford credits his sister Zara as inspirational to his success.

Chasing Dreams Travel

Alex Myall is a writer for ExplorersWeb. She has been writing about exploration and historical expeditions for four years. Previously she wrote about the human body in relation to exercise for publications and websites based in New Zealand. She also wrote modules for the Zealand Certificate of Exercise, Level 4. Based on Wellington’s South Coast, New Zealand, Myall is a full-time mother of two young girls, an enthusiastic trail runner, and a fanatical traveler. She also owns and operates a small travel agency.