The Belgian-British 19-year old pilot departed Kortrijk-Wevelgem Airport (KJK/EBKT) on the 18th of August 2021 in a modified Shark.Aero UL, a high-performance Slovak built ultralight. Her mission, fly around the globe, all by herself.
The trip of roughly 52.000 kilometres (~ 32.311 miles) stretched across 5 continents, 52 countries, and took her 155 days to complete.
The completion of this incredible journey, makes her the youngest woman to ever circumnavigate to globe in a single-engine aircraft, a record previously held by Shaesta Waiz, a then 30-year old Afghan-American woman.
Not only that, but she is now also the youngest person to circumnavigate the world solo by microlight. And the first Belgian to fly around the world solo.
Through this journey, Zara aimed to raise media awareness for STEM-related businesses, and hopes to help reduce the gender gap in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics as well as in Aviation.
About Zara Rutherford:
Zara is a 19-year old Belgian-British citizen, born into a family of aviators. Her father, Sam Rutherford being a professional British pilot, and her mother, Beatrice De Smet, being a Belgian recreational pilot. Naturally she has been subject to aviation since a very early age.
As a young girl, Zara would accompany her father on flights, sometimes flying part of the way herself. At the age of 14, she began training to become a pilot and she gained her pilot’s license in 2020. She completed her A levels in mathematics, further mathematics, economics and physics at St. Swithun’s School, a girls’ school in Winchester, Hampshire, England.
Departing Kortrijk-Wevelgem Airport (KJK/EBKT) on the 18th of August 2021, she flew West towards the United Kingdom. The journey would take her over places like Iceland, Greenland, Canada, the United States, the Carribean, Latin America, Russia, South Korea, the Philippines, Malaysia, India, the Middle East, and back over to Europe.
The flight of course didn’t go seamlessly, one reason being the constantly changing weather.
On the 30th September 2021, after arriving in Alaska, she was forced to wait a week for her Russian visa to be renewed. By the time her passport arrived back, the weather had turned bad and she had to wait another three weeks before she could cross the Bering Strait.
After flying from Russia on the 11th of December, Zara was supposed to make stops in China, but because of the country’s strict COVID-19 restrictions, she was forced to make a detour over the Sea of Japan and fly to South Korea instead. During the six-hour flight, she had difficulty contacting air traffic controllers in Seoul and she sought the help of a KLM commercial pilot who forwarded her messages to the air traffic controllers and helped her find the correct frequencies. They were able to find the KLM pilot and thanked them for their help.
One of the most important aspects of such a challenge, is of course finding the right aircraft, and find one they did.
The Slovak aircraft manufacturer Shark.Aero had just what they needed. They provided Zara and the FlyZolo team with a Shark UL ultralight aircraft. It had all the things they were looking for: comfort, performance, and of course, reliability. The aircraft with registration OM-S443 would be the only company she’d have during the majority of her journey.
Without backing, this might not have been possible of course, so Zara and FlyZolo had their fair share of partners.
ICDSoft, a web hosting company that has been providing fast, secure, and stable web services for over 20 years.
Girls Who Code, a nonprofit organization which aims to support and increase the number of women in computer science by equipping young women with the necessary computing skills to pursue 21st century opportunities.
Dreams Soar, a nonprofit organization founded by the previous record holder, Shaesta Waiz, which is hoping to inspire women and girls to achieve their dreams and enter into STEM fields .
And a handful of others, including Shark.Aero, and even Holly and Richard Branson’s Virgin Group.
And finally, on the 20th of January, 2022, after a few last-minute delays, 155 days after departing the very same airfield, Zara re-entered Belgian airspace. She was quickly accompanied by 4 Belgian Air Force SF-240M Marchetti’s of the Red Devils Display Team who flew in a V-formation with her leading.
Before finally landing, they all did one low pass over the runway, with the Marchetti’s breaking off to the side. She then came back around, and finally put the wheels back on the runway at about 13:00 local time.
Some articles about it:
Having tracked her journey quite closely trough the months (even watching her arrival in the middle of a school lesson), it is absolutely amazing to see her accomplish this massive feat. It truly is remarkable what people can accomplish with dedication and amazing people to help back them up. Massive props to Zara and the whole FlyZolo team for this amazing journey, and I really hope she’ll achieve more of her dreams in the future.
If I missed anything, or if you spot some errors, please do let me know. This is pretty much my first ever news post of this sort, so I’m not very good at this. (I literally accidentally posted an incomplete version of this story like 30 minutes ago, it’s that bad.)