After one hundred and fifty five days after departing the Flanders International Airport (EBKT) in Belgium’s city of Kortrijk, Rutherford arrived home Thursday.
Zara completed a 52 000 km journey spanning 41 countries and managed to break two Guinness World Records in the process. Although both of her parents are pilots, Rutherford didn’t get her license until 2020.
CHALLENGES AND SETBACKS
Rutherford departed on August 18, 2021 in an ultralight aircraft. Initially Zara believed her aerial adventure would take about three months, but she was plagued by setbacks, including month-long delays in both Alaska and Russia due to visa and weather issues, pushing her schedule back eight weeks.
She was also forced to make an unscheduled landing in Redding, California due to poor visibility as a result of the wildfires in the Seattle area and was later denied permission to fly over China.
“I would say the hardest part was definitely flying over Siberia — it was extremely cold. It was minus 35 degrees Celsius on the ground,” Rutherford said during a press conference on Thursday.
“If the engine were to stall, I’d be hours away from rescue and I don’t know how long I could have survived for.”
She spent her Christmas in Singapore after reporting that she had a flat tyre.
The final leg of her journey was also hit with delays due to bad weather, which meant her completion date was moved back another week.
- Zara beat the record for the youngest female pilot to circumnavigate the world at 19 years old.
- She also now holds the record as the first woman to circumnavigate the world in a single-engine microlight aircraft.
She also broke a national record as the first Belgian to fly around the world alone.
The previous Guinness World Records record holder, Afghani-American pilot Shaesta Waiz, was 30 years old when she did it in 145 days in the summer of 2017. Zara beat the record by 11 years.
While Zara has flown to an array of destinations, such as Singapore, Egypt and Greece, along with Russia and South Korea, Rutherford has been unable to explore any of them due to current Covid-19 restrictions.
71 takeoffs and landings, 155 days flying time, +-260 flight hours, +- 52080 km and visiting 41 countries.
The two-seat ultralight aircraft she completed the journey in was provided by Shark Aero, one of the sponsors for the trip, with customizations such as a second radio, and an additional fuel tank in the place where the second passenger would typically sit.
The plane has an optimum cruising speed of 140 knots (about 160 mph) and is equipped with an integrated parachute for emergencies.
‘The dream was really to fly around the world. But I always thought it was impossible: it’s expensive, dangerous, complicated, a logistical nightmare,’ she said. ‘So I never really thought about it twice. And then I was finishing school and I thought: if I am going to do something crazy with my life this is the perfect time to do it.’
Rutherford started flying at the age of 14, and already had a dream of flying around the world back then. Rutherford is currently on a gap year and plans to go to university in September to study electrical engineering.
Rutherford has been supporting two charities on her trip: ‘Girls Who Code’, which helps young women entering computer science, and ‘Dreams Soar’, a non-profit founded by Waiz. Rutherford hopes that her journey would encourage women to bridge the gender gap in aviation and studies in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM).
Last year, Rutherford spoke of her disappointment at the fact that just 5.1% of airline pilots around the globe are women, according to figures from the International Society of Women Airline Pilots (ISA).
“Only 5 percent of commercial pilots and 15 percent of computer scientists are women,” she said in a statement. “In both areas—aviation and STEM—the gender gap is huge.”