KORTRIJK, Belgium (AP) — A Belgian-British teenager took to the skies Wednesday in her quest to become the youngest woman to fly around the world solo.
Nineteen-year-old Zara Rutherford took off from an airstrip in Kortrijk, western Belgium in gusty, overcast conditions with her parents looking on. Rutherford is aiming to break the record set by American aviator Shaesta Waiz, who was 30 when she set the world benchmark in 2017.
Rutherford aims to fly her Shark fast, light sport aircraft over five continents and 52 countries in an aerial trek that’s likely to take 2-3 months.
She said she wants to inspire girls and young women to get into aviation and encourage them to study science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
Rutherford hails from a family of pilots. She’s been traveling in small planes since the age of six, began jumping out of them – with a parachute – aged 11, then started flying herself at 14. She’s logged about 130 hours of solo flights.
Her plane is specially fitted out for the journey. It’s normally a two-seater but an extra fuel tank now takes up one of those places. That will also help erase any doubts about whether she’s flying alone.
The Shark is too small for long-distance flying over the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. For the crossing over the Atlantic, Rutherford will fly up through Europe and over Greenland. She’ll head down through the United States, then back up to Alaska to cross the Pacific. From there, she’ll head across Asia back to Europe.
The men’s record for a solo round the world flight is held by 18-year-old Travis Ludlow from Britain. Rutherford hopes that by narrowing the gap from 12 years to just one, she’ll show other young women and girls that the sky’s the limit when it comes to making their own mark on the history of aviation.