Teen pilot takes off solo with a bid for the world record

Teenage pilot Zara Rutherford took her ultralight sports plane to the skies on Wednesday on the first leg of a flight of 52 countries and five continents around the world.

The intrepid 19-year-old British-Belgian dreams of one day becoming an astronaut, but for now her goal is to become the youngest woman to circumnavigate the planet flying alone.

The first leg was a short jump across the English Channel from his Belgian hometown of Kortrijk to England. Her three-month journey will take her through oceans, deserts, and the vast Siberian wilderness.

It will try to avoid the overwhelming major air hubs aside from New York’s busy JFK airport in its tiny 325 kilogram (717 pound) Shark UL propeller plane and land at smaller airports and airfields to rest overnight and refuel. .

You will be alone for flights lasting five to six hours. He has obtained permission to visit countries such as Greenland, Honduras, Saudi Arabia, and Myanmar.

While not the youngest pilot to fly around the world solo, 18-year-old Briton Travis Ludlow completed the trip in July, Rutherford is the youngest woman to attempt the feat.

“I really hope to encourage girls and young women to get into aviation and STEM – science, technology, engineering and math,” she said before takeoff.

“Growing up, I didn’t see a lot of women in those fields and it was pretty daunting. So I hope to change that.”

His aerial odyssey can be followed on Rutherford’s website, FlyZolo.com, and on the social media app TikTok.

Rutherford has a satellite phone and radio to communicate with air traffic control in every country on her route, but in the cabin she will be alone with her music and podcasts.

There is no next backed plane, but his support crew in Belgium, including his father, a former British Air Force pilot, have planned the adventure with care, especially by establishing the necessary clearances to fly to many national airspaces in advance. different. .

Crossing the Atlantic will be the first big challenge, she says, but the long journey from Siberia to Mongolia will also see her often far from civilization if she is in trouble.

“I did not sleep very well, I am quite nervous but I am very excited,” she told AFP.

“Right now, I’m feeling a bit incredulous. I think I’ll only start to realize that I’ve actually started when I land in the UK.”

‘Extremely proud’

Family, friends, journalists, airport staff and the city’s mayor flocked to Kortrijk Wevelgem airport to see her off, an emotional moment for her proud Belgian mother, Beatrice De Smet.

“Obviously I have many mixed emotions. I am a mother and my heart beats stronger when I see her go away like this, and with all this attention that adds to the stress, it is not easy for her,” De Smet said. the tiny plane disappeared into the gray Flanders sky.

“But I am extremely proud, not only of the flight he is taking, but of the mission behind him, inspiring girls to follow their dreams and reach for the stars.”

If all goes according to plan, Rutherford will return to Belgium on November 4, with his feet on the ground but his eyes fixed on another horizon as he seeks to continue his engineering studies.


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