Pilot Zara Rutherford, 19, set off on Wednesday at the start of a three-month bid to become the youngest woman to fly solo round the world. She is seeking to win the title from Shaesta Wais, who became the youngest woman to fly solo round the world at 30.
Rutherford departed from Kortrijk-Wevelgem Airport in western Belgium in her Shark ultralight, the world’s fastest microlight aircraft. She hopes that her voyage will encourage more girls and women to study and work in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics), while inspiring more girls to spark an interest in aviation.
“Growing up, I loved aviation and STEM – science, technology, engineering and mathematics, but I didn’t see many other women or girls doing that. I just always thought that was quite sad or discouraging,” Rutherford told Reuters. “I’m hoping that I can encourage girls to go into this field.”
Both Rutherford’s parents are pilot, and she has a dream of becoming an astronaut. She will be starting university next year. According to her, her love for adventure is the drive for her ambition. “I love adventure, and I think space is probably the biggest adventure out there,” she said.
Rutherford’s route will take about three months, with stops in 52 countries – including Greenland, China and Nicaragua – where she will stay with local families or in hotels.