Teen pilot to land in Prague before completing her record solo world flight

Zara Rutherford has spent the last five months circumnavigating the globe in a Slovak-made ultralight plane.

Raymond Johnston

Written by Raymond Johnston Published on 11.01.2022 13:58 (updated on 11.01.2022) Reading time: 3 minutes

Nineteen-year-old British-Belgian pilot Zara Rutherford will arrive in Prague on Jan. 15, nearing the end of her five-month quest to become the youngest woman to fly around the world alone. She has been making the voyage in Shark UL, a single-engine ultralight plane loaned to her by Slovak aviation firm Shark.Aero.

Rutherford began her trip on Aug. 18, 2021, heading west from Kortrijk, Belgium, on a less than direct route taking her across the Atlantic, down to Mexico, back up to Alaska, across to Russia, down to Singapore, across India, through the Middle East and back to Europe. She expects to make it back to Kortrijk on Jan. 17. Prague is her third from last stop.

“I have been flying for as long as I can remember and one of my biggest dreams (as well as flying around the world!) is becoming an astronaut,” she said on her website when her voyage began.

Another one of her goals is to inspire more women to seek careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics – the so-called STEM fields.

“I was born into a family of aviators and was lucky to have great role models in my parents and grandparents. I want to build on this heritage and inspire others. My aim is to encourage girls and young women to pursue their dreams and promote aviation and STEM-related careers for them,” she said, adding that women only make up 5 percent of commercial pilots.

“With my flight, I want to show young women that they can be bold, ambitious, and make their dreams come true,” Rutherford said.

As her inspirations, she lists pioneering British aviator Lillian Bland, who was prevented from entering competitions due to her gender, African American aviator Bessie Coleman, who had to go to France to learn how to fly, Russian cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova, the first woman in space, and Amelia Earhart, who set several records before disappearing during a trans-Pacific flight.

Rutherford has now almost circled the globe, returning to Europe on Jan. 9 after 144 days. After three days of rest she will take off for Sofia, Bulgaria, home to her main sponsor, web hosting firm ICDSoft.

“Been a long (almost) 5 months and I’m looking forward to being home. Pretty easy flight yesterday from Alexandria, Egypt to Crete, Greece. Although for the last 20 minutes or so I was dodging rain showers trying to find a way to the island,” she said on Instagram. She has also been documenting her trip on YouTube, Facebook, and TikTok.

@flyzolo

This is what I’m thinking abt on my flights. Go check out my insta for a video of camels

♬ original sound - Zara Rutherford

After Sofia, she will stop at Senica, Slovakia, the home of Shark.Aero, on Jan. 14, and then arrive at Prague’s Václav Havel Airport Prague the next day at around 2 pm. No public events are planned, but people can try to spot the plane arriving from the airport viewing decks. Her penultimate stop is Frankfurt, Germany, on Jan. 16.

As she has documented her trip on social media, it should come as no surprise that it will end with a Facebook live stream from Kortrijk on Jan. 17, starting at 10 am. She should arrive at 10:30 am and greet fans for an hour after that.

When she completes her trip, she will break two Guinness World Records. She will become the youngest woman to fly solo around the world, shaving 12 years off the record as the current holder to the female title was 30 when she made the trip. This will also close the gender gap substantially as the current youngest male solo record holder was 18.

The second record is that she will be the first of any age or gender to circumnavigate the world in an ultralight. In addition, she will also be the Belgian to circumnavigate the world solo by air.

Her trip was slowed not only by weather and slight technical setbacks but also by bureaucratic issues. She had to pause in Alaska due to an issue with her Russian visa, which took a week. By that time the weather had turned, and she had to wait three more weeks before it was safe to cross over to Siberia. More bad weather saw her grounded in Russia several times, so the five stops there took over a month before she finally made it to South Korea.

Her plan to make stops in China had to be changed when that country blocked her from landing due to Covid restrictions. Instead, she had to fly around the world’s fourth-largest country. This would up involving an additional detour to avoid a typhoon. Since the middle of December, her progress has been steady with only minor delays.

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