Zara Rutherford always dreamed of flying solo around the world, but she never thought it would actually happen. It was “expensive, dangerous, complicated, a logistical nightmare,” Rutherford told herself. However, as she was finishing school, she decided to do something crazy: try to make her dream come true. She succeeded.
Rutherford, a 19-year-old Belgian-British teen, became the youngest woman to complete a solo flight around the world on Thursday. She completed the journey in Shark ultralight aircraft, a plane that can reach speeds of up to 186 miles per hour (300 kilometers per hour). In her five-month trip, she flew over 52 countries and five continents, logging approximately 32,000 miles (51,000 kilometers).
Rutherford was greeted by cheers and applause when she landed on the tarmac at the Kortrijk-Wevelgem airport in Belgium.
“It’s just really crazy. I haven’t quite processed it,” she said on Thursday, as reported by Reuters.
Rutherford broke the previous record held by the Afghan-American Shaesta Waiz, the first certified female pilot from Afghanistan who made the trip when she was 30 years old in 2017. The Belgian-British teen is only one year older than Mason Andrews, the youngest male record holder for a solo flight. Andrews, also an American, completed his flight when he was 18 years old in 2018.
Waiz congratulated Rutherford on her flight on Instagram and shared a photo of them together.
“Bravo!!! I can’t wait to connect with you soon to share my joy and excitement with you,” Waiz said. “I also cannot wait to hear your stories and strength along your journey. You have inspired so many people, especially me!”
Over the course of her months-long journey, Rutherford experienced things most of us only see on TV or read in books. As told by the Guardian, she flew through freezing temperatures in Greenland, Alaska, and Russia; desert haze in Saudi Arabia; thunderstorms at the equator; and smog in India, to name a few.
During some moments, Rutherford felt like her life could be danger. One of the scariest experiences of her trip, she said, was when she was flying to South Korea in bad weather while trying to stay out of Chinese and North Korea airspace.
“They have been testing missiles with no warning,” Rutherford said of North Korea. “”If they see a small blip or aircraft on their screen that’s quite low heading towards their country, it’s very possible that they would send someone out to have a look.”
She was not interested in that and fortunately managed to avoid any trouble.
Now that she’s back in Belgium, Rutherford is planning on studying electrical engineering once she begins university. She hopes that her flight will encourage more girls to study science and engineering and give them a role model that looks like them.
“Boys learn through toys, street names, history classes and movies that they can be scientists, astronauts, CEO’s or presidents,” Rutherford wrote on her website. “Girls are often encouraged to be beautiful, kind, helpful and sweet. With my flight I want to show young women that they can be bold, ambitious and make their dreams come true.”
She still has one more big dream left on her list: becoming an astronaut. With that determination, I’m betting she makes it happen.