Pilot Zara Rutherford Completes Solo Circumnavigation

In a most unusual gap year, 19-year-old Belgian pilot Zara Rutherford has spent the last few months flying across the world solo. Today, she officially completed her circumnavigation of our planet. This makes her the youngest woman ever to do so.

Rutherford touched down in Belgium on January 20 with two records: the youngest woman to circumnavigate the world in a microlight aircraft and the youngest woman to fly solo around the world.

Eighteen-year-old Travis Ludlow of the UK remains the youngest person overall to circumnavigate the globe solo. He finished his 44-day flight in July 2021. The previous woman’s record holder was 30-year-old Shaista Waiz, according to The New York Times.

A family of aviators

Zara comes from a family of aviators and decided to take flying a step further. The idealistic young woman hopes eventually to become an astronaut. This achievement may help her application to elite space training programs.

In order to prepare, she completed 80 hours of flight time in Belgium and the UK and took emergency courses.

Zara Rutherford in Dubai earlier this January. Photo: Zara Rutherford


She began her ambitious journey in mid-August 2021 in her Shark Aero, one of the fastest ultralight aircraft. The plane was modified for longer distances and did not suffer from any major hiccups throughout the trip. She had to change a few locations, including her two antipodal points (an obligatory constraint for all world circumnavigations) because of dangerous weather.

She did experience setbacks. Notably, she was marooned in Russia for over three weeks because of frigid temperatures, wind, and bureaucratic issues with her visa. When she finally left, she had to outrun a super-typhoon. She also had to avoid North Korean airspace at all costs.

Rutherford in her Shark Aero. Photo: Zara Rutherford


After leaving Asia and the Middle East, she soared smoothly through Europe without any major issues, experiencing just a delay or two. She is now back home, soaking up the attention for her feat.ย 

The next time we see her, she might not be in a plane but rather a space shuttle.