19-year-old woman sets world record for solo flight | Way of life

BRUSSELS — At home! And no longer alone.

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

She made it count for herself, her family, and dedicated it to all the young women trying to succeed in male-dominated fields like aviation and the exact sciences that drive the industry.

“Go for it. It takes a lot of time, patience, a lot of hard work, but it’s amazing,” she said after an adventure that gave her as many thrills as it did scares – frozen tundra in Siberia to typhoons in the Philippines and the stark beauty of the Arabian Desert.

Once, his single-seat microlight Shark filled with the stench of California wildfires. Often she flew in utter solitude over seas or wastelands, hours away from potential rescue. She had to spend weeks in isolation in the small Siberian village of Ayan with virtually no contact with her family or the world she knows.

So little felt as sweet as Thursday’s embrace with his pilot parents and brother.

“We’re going to celebrate this by being like a family together, first of all,” her mother Beatrice said. “I think Zara wants to celebrate by sleeping for about two weeks.”

When she wakes up, she will find herself in the Guinness Book of World Records after setting the mark held by 30-year-old American aviator Shaesta Waiz since 2017.

The overall record will remain out of Rutherford’s reach, as Britain’s Travis Ludlow set that benchmark last year at the age of 18.

Her global flight was supposed to last three months, but inclement weather and visa issues kept her grounded sometimes for weeks, extending her adventure by around two months.

Rain, drizzle, sunshine and even a rainbow over Kortrijk airport on Thursday illustrated the changeable, often bad weather it had too often faced.

After being escorted by a formation of four planes in a huge V across much of Belgium, she flew over the airport before finally landing. After waving to the jubilant crowd, she draped herself in both the Union Jack and the Belgian tricolor.

During her journey of more than 52,000 kilometers (28,000 nautical miles), she stopped on five continents and visited 41 nations.

Rutherford’s flight saw her dodging wildfires in California, facing bitter cold over Russia and narrowly avoiding North Korean airspace. She flew under visual flight rules, essentially by sight only, often slowing progress when more sophisticated systems could have guided her through clouds and fog.

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

Very quickly, the dream of flying around the world grew in his head.

“But I never thought it would be possible. I thought it was too difficult, too dangerous, too expensive,” she said.

For the money part, sponsorship and people’s contributions took care of that. For the danger and difficulty factor, she did it herself.

In terms of timing, it fits perfectly between high school and college.

“I actually thought it was the perfect opportunity to do something crazy and fly around the world,” she said.

With the final landing, the teenager wants to inspire young women and girls around the world with the spirit of aviation – and an enthusiasm for studying the exact sciences, mathematics, engineering and technology.

In September, she hopes to go to a university in Britain or the United States to study electrical engineering.

About Theresa Burton

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