19-Year-Old Belgian to Circumnavigate the Globe

Adventure Travel
Zara Rutherford. Photo: Zara Rutherford/Instagram

On August 11, 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.


About the Author

Kristine De Abreu

Kristine De Abreu

Kristine De Abreu is a writer (and occasional photographer) based in sunny Trinidad and Tobago.

Since graduating from the University of Leicester with a BA in English and History, she has pursued a full-time writing career, exploring multiple niches before settling on travel and exploration. While studying for an additional diploma in travel journalism with the British College of Journalism, she began writing for ExWeb.

Currently, she works at a travel magazine in Trinidad as an editorial assistant and is also ExWeb's Weird Wonder Woman, reporting on the world's natural oddities as well as general stories from the world of exploration.

Although she isn't a climber (yet!), she hikes in the bush, has been known to make friends with iguanas and quote the Lord of the Rings trilogy from start to finish.

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Lenore Jones
Lenore Jones
1 month ago

Cool! I’ll be interested to hear how she does.