A teenage pilot has become the youngest woman to fly solo around the world, landing in Belgium after an epic five-month journey.
Zara Rutherford touched down in the town of Kortrijk, 90 kilometres west of Brussels, on Thursday afternoon — the same airfield where she embarked on her journey last August.
At 19 years old, the British-Belgian pilot is 11 years and 11 months younger than American Shaesta Waiz who was 30 when she set the existing record for the youngest woman to circumnavigate the world solo back in 2017.
“Growing up, I didn’t see many other female pilots. I always thought that was really discouraging,” Zara Rutherford told reporters after landing her single-seater Shark sport aircraft at Egelsbach, an airfield a few kilometres from Frankfurt Airport, Germany’s busiest.
“So I’m hoping to encourage more girls to go into aviation and kind of show a friendly face so that if a girl likes aviation and she sees me, she knows she’s not the only one."
Rutherford’s route around the world took her across Iceland to Greenland and down the east of Canada and the USA through Central America to Colombia then back north to Alaska.
She flew over Russia, Korea, Indonesia, and India to the Middle East before heading back to Europe in her Shark Aero aircraft which is designed in Czechia and built-in Slovakia. It can reach speeds of up to 295 kilometres per hour.
Along the way, Rutherford had to deal with biting cold over Russia and narrowly avoid North Korean airspace.
The teenager has recently completed her high school studies in mathematics, economics, and physics and hopes to study computer science or computer engineering at university.
“In both aviation and STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) the gender gap is huge,” Rutherford wrote on her website.
“My aim is to encourage girls and young women to pursue their dreams and promote aviation and STEM-related careers. Only 5 per cent of commercial pilots and 15 per cent of computer scientists are women.”