19-Year-Old Belgian to Circumnavigate the Globe

On August 18, Zara Rutherford leaves on the adventure of her young life. She will fly alone around the world in a small aircraft.

The 19-year-old recently finished her high school exams and decided to take a gap year. And what a gap year project: If she succeeds, she will become the youngest woman and first Belgian to circumnavigate the world. 

A flying family

Rutherford comes from a family of pilots. Her father, mother, and brother all have experience in the sky. Rutherford attended school in the UK where she started studying for her pilot’s license at the age of 14. She already has 80 hours of flight time, not including what she has done informally with her family on vacations. At the moment, she possesses a French Microlight License and hopes to acquire her Commercial Pilot License after this trip. 

Rutherford’s plane. Photo: Zara Rutherford/Instagram


To train for her journey, she has taken flying lessons in her native Belgium, as well as in the UK and U.S. She has helped ferry small planes from Canada to the U.S. and the Middle East. She has trained for worst-case scenarios in a dunker course (how to escape from a plane underwater) and by night flying. However, she intends to fly during the day and by visual reference only. There will be no night flying unless there is a need for it. 

Her plane is a Shark UL, a small, high-performance plane modified to cover longer distances. Able to cover 1,600km off the shelf without refueling, the plane can now fly 3,500km. It is made from a carbon fibre-epoxy composite, can travel at 300kph, and “will use less fuel for the entire circumnavigation than a passenger jet uses in 10 minutes,” she says. Her flight times will vary but can go up to six hours per leg. 

Rutherford’s route. Photo: flyzolo.com


Around the world in 250 hours

Her route includes 52 countries on five continents. In order to meet the requirements for a Guinness World Record, the route chosen will cross the equator twice, at two points called antipodals. These are two spots on the Earth totally opposite to each other. For her, they will be the small towns of Jambi, Indonesia and Tumaco, Colombia.

The journey will take approximately three months (250 hours of flight time). While she has a couple of sponsors to help fund the trip, she continues to look for last-minute sponsors. To save money, she plans to stay with relatives and friends along the way. 

Rutherford on a practice run. Photo: Zara Rutherford/Instagram


A successful trip will take her one step closer to her eventual dream of becoming an astronaut.