WEVELGEM: Teenage pilot Zara Rutherford took her ultralight sports plane into the skies on Wednesday on the first leg of a 52-country, five-continent flight around the world.
The intrepid 19-year-old British-Belgian dreams one day of becoming an astronaut, but for now her goal is to become the youngest woman to circumnavigate the planet flying solo. The first leg was a short hop across the Channel from her Belgian home town of Kortrijk to England. Her three-month voyage will then take her over oceans, deserts and the vast Siberian wilderness.
She will try to avoid daunting main air hubs — apart from New York’s busy JFK airport — in her tiny 325-kilogramme Shark UL prop plane, and touch down instead on smaller airports and airfields for overnight rests and refuelling.
She will be on her own for flights lasting five to six hours. She has secured permission to visit countries including Greenland, Honduras, Saudi Arabia and Myanmar.
While not the youngest pilot to fly around the world solo — an 18-year-old Briton, Travis Ludlow, completed the trip in July — Rutherford is the youngest woman to attempt the feat.
“I’m really hoping to encourage girls and young women to go into aviation and STEM — science, technology, engineering and mathematics,” she said before takeoff.
“Growing up, I didn’t see many women in those fields and it was quite discouraging. So I’m hoping to change that.” Her aerial odyssey can be followed on Rutherford’s website, FlyZolo.com, and on the TikTok social media app.
Rutherford has a satellite telephone and a radio to communicate with air traffic control in all the countries on her route, but in the cockpit she will be alone with her music and her podcasts.
Published in Dawn, August 19th, 2021