19-year-old woman sets record for solo global flight

Pilot Zara Rutherford stands on a wing of her parked plane and gives thumbs up.
Pilot Zara Rutherford, 19, after landing in Belgium on Thursday.
(Geert Vanden Wijngaert / Associated Press)

Zara Rutherford, a 19-year-old Belgian British pilot, set a world record as the youngest woman to fly solo around the world, touching down her small airplane in western Belgium on Thursday — 155 days after she departed.

Rutherford will find herself in the Guinness World Records book after setting the mark that had been held by 30-year-old American aviator Shaesta Waiz since 2017.

The overall record will remain out of Rutherford’s grasp, since Briton Travis Ludlow set that benchmark last year as an 18-year-old.


Her global flight in her ultralight Shark plane was supposed to take three months, but relentless bad weather and visa issues kept her grounded sometimes for weeks on end, extending her adventure by about two months.

The weather over Kortrijk’s airport was overcast with a drizzle in the air.

“Winter in Europe poses a lot of challenges,” she said as she was held back for days on the last few legs of the trip. Then again, she had had to deal with minus 31 degrees in Siberia and 90 degrees in Indonesia. Fog, smoke from wildfires and even typhoons also held her back.

In her trek of more than 28,000 nautical miles, she stopped over in five continents and visited 41 nations.

“It is an adventure, definitely,” she said.

Rutherford’s flight saw her steer clear of wildfires in California, deal with biting cold over Russia and narrowly avoid North Korean airspace. She flew by Visual Flight Rules, basically going on sight only, often slowing down progress when more sophisticated systems could have led her through clouds and fog.

Sometimes she feared for her life, and at other times she simply yearned for the simple comforts of home. Flying runs in her blood since both her parents are pilots and she has been traveling in small planes since she was 6. At 14, she started flying herself.

With the final touchdown, the teenager wants to infuse young women and girls worldwide with the spirit of aviation — and an enthusiasm for studies in the exact sciences, mathematics, engineering and technology.