Zara Rutherford hopes to be youngest woman to tour the world solo

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(CNN) – When most students take a gap year between high school and college, it’s usually a backpacking adventure or gaining work experience and saving before college.

But Zara Rutherford isn’t most people.

On August 11, the 19-year-old sets out on the journey of his life: a 32,000-mile journey around the world. More than that, she will fly herself.

“It’s a dream that I have had for a very long time, but it has always seemed unrealistic to me,” said Rutherford, who has dual British-Belgian nationality. “When I decided to take a year off before going to college, I realized I had plenty of time – I might as well do something crazy with it.”

Flying in a bespoke Shark ultralight, which she says is the world’s fastest ultralight aircraft, Rutherford hopes to set the record for the youngest woman to tour the world solo – and inspire more of girls and women to pursue careers in science and aviation.

Two months, 52 countries

Rutherford is no new pilot. Her parents are both pilots and Rutherford has been learning to fly since the age of 14, although she did not start formal flight lessons and did not get her first license until 2020.

With over 80 officially recorded flight hours and hundreds more, Rutherford describes his flying experience as “quality over quantity”. She gained additional experience helping her parents with their plane “ferry” service of moving planes between locations: one trip involved helping her father move a plane from the United States to Jordan.

“I’ve seen a bit of the course before so I know what to expect,” she adds.

From Belgium, the Rutherford Road takes it west through 52 countries, five continents, and crosses the equator twice – first to Tumaco, Colombia, and again to Jambi, Indonesia. – which is part of the Guinness World Records requirements for one-the-flight of the world.

The two-month trip is self-funded and the teenager sold her car to help pay, while also seeking sponsors.

Another cost of the trip is the environmental impact. While Rutherford says the total fuel for her trip is the equivalent of the amount used in 10 minutes by a Boeing 747, she is spending € 600 ($ 710) on tree planting projects to offset her carbon footprint.

Rutherford will fly using “visual flight rules” – meaning she must be able to see clearly where she is going to avoid obstacles and stay on the course, so she does not fly at night or in bad conditions. weather situation. Stopping for just a night or two in each location, she plans to meet schools and youth groups in different countries – which she hopes will bring more visibility to aviation for young girls, for Show them “that they can really achieve anything they want.”

Women in aviation

Raising awareness of women in aviation is a key part of Rutherford’s mission. According to the International Society of Women Airline Pilots (ISA), only 5.1% of airline pilots worldwide are women – far below many other science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) professions.

“[5%] is such a small number, given that it’s a career where you basically get paid to travel the world – it’s obviously work, but it’s an incredible career with incredible opportunities, ”said Rutherford.

Currently, the youngest female pilot to fly solo around the world in a single-engine aircraft is Shaesta Waiz, who was 30 at the time. Rutherford points to the gap between men’s and women’s records – Travis Ludlow was just 18 when he became the youngest person to tour the world solo in July 2021 – as one of many indicators of the disparity between men and women in aviation.

Visibility is the key to showing young women the possibilities, says Rutherford. To help get more women and girls involved in science early on, Rutherford is supporting two charities on her trip: Girls Who Code, which supports young women getting into IT, and Dreams Soar, a non-profit organization founded by current record holder Waiz, which supports women and girls entering STEM fields.

She hopes to close the “dream gap” and be a role model for young girls, just as her mom and dad were to her growing up. “I think seeing other women in aviation, IT and STEM normalizes it a lot more,” she says.

A more accessible plane

Rutherford’s ULM plane is one of the things that makes travel possible. ULMs are small single-seater or two-seater planes used for leisure or personal transport. If she completes her trip, Rutherford will also win the record for the youngest person to tour the world solo in a microlight.

On loan from Shark Aero, one of his travel sponsors, the Shark Ultralight Rutherford will fly has been customized to his needs including a second radio, satellite communications that will allow him to call anyone at any time during the flight, and an additional fuel tank in the usual location of the second passenger seat, which will add more than 1,000 kilometers to its flight range.

While the plane is “perfectly capable” of making the trip without these modifications, Zara’s father, Sam Rutherford, says the changes have given him and Zara an added sense of security.

“It’s the fastest ULM in the world, with a whole host of security systems and solutions as well,” he says.

Microlights are a more accessible option for potential aviators, Zara Rutherford explains. She hopes her trip will also highlight the possibilities of microlights for novice aviators and inspire more young women and girls to try flying.

“It’s an easy thing to say, but go for it,” she said. “If you don’t try to see how high you can fly, then you’ll never know.”

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