Teen seeks to become the youngest woman to fly solo around the globe
Teen seeks to become the youngest woman to fly solo around the globe

Zara Rutherford is freezing. "It is really, really cold here," she says.

That shouldn't necessarily come as a surprise as the teenage pilot is currently stranded in Alaska.


Rutherford, 19, is no ordinary youngster though. She is on a mission to become the youngest woman in history to fly solo, or "zolo", around the planet.

She started flying as a child. Now, having recently graduated from high school, she is hoping to cover 52 countries and five continents within less than four months.

She took off from Belgium on Aug 18. Touching down in Britain on the way, Rutherford reached Iceland just one day later, according to the live tracker on her website Fly Zolo.

She then crossed the Atlantic via Greenland to reach the United States, then made it to Alaska, after an extensive detour down to South America and back up the West Coast of the US.

But there were obstacles along the way, such as smoke billowing up from forest fires in California to technical glitches that prevented her from fully extending the plane's wheels.

Having reached Alaska a bit behind schedule, Rutherford's visa for Russia, her next stop, has now expired.

She does not seem to mind too much, knowing this might be the only time in her life she will get to spend time in the remote town of Nome.

"It is stunning. It is beautiful," she says, showing a video of a glistening landscape taken from the cockpit, while chatting via Zoom.

When flying, Rutherford is not usually in a position to fully appreciate the breathtaking views as she sails above them.

"You are able to take videos, but to just enjoy and to relax is relatively rare because there is always something going on," she says. On top of these glimpses of some of the planet's most spectacular landscapes, other moments also reward her bravery.

Rutherford counts flying over the Statue of Liberty and landing at John F. Kennedy Airport in New York among them, she says, her voice full of excitement.

She also has the luxury of time, when it comes to setting a new bar. The youngest female pilot to fly solo around the world is currently American Shaesta Waiz, who was 30 years old at the time.

"I have 11 years to beat that record," Rutherford says and laughs.

The youngest male pilot to fly around the earth by himself was 18 years old at the time – which Rutherford sees as a sign of gender inequality. She hopes her mission will encourage more girls to pursue science and aviation.

Rutherford, who took her A-levels in Mathematics, Further Mathematics, Economics and Physics, is travelling in a Shark ultralight aircraft that is among the fastest in the world.

Specially designed for such a journey, it can reach cruising speeds of up to 300km per hour, according to her website.

But that also makes her mission more challenging, says German pilot Justin Steinke.

"Such a small plane wobbles much more than a big one."

Before take-off, Rutherford had plenty to do, from acquiring sponsors to emergency training and carrying out technical exercises.

But having set off, she is now taking it one day at a time and does not plan ahead more than one day in advance, she says.

Originally scheduled to be back in Belgium by the beginning of November, she now looks more likely to make it back just in time for Christmas.

Rutherford is particularly looking forward to seeing her family and cats again, along with home-cooked meals.

"You'd be surprised at how quickly you're done with restaurants," she says.

First, however, she will get the chance to get a taste of local cuisine in Russia, Japan, Indonesia, Thailand and the Middle East – if everything goes according to plan. – dpa 


Posted on 02 November 2021
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