A teenage pilot is hoping to carve a name for herself in the history books as the youngest woman to circumnavigate the planet flying solo.
Zara Rutherford, 19, departed her home town of Kortrijk in Belgium on Wednesday in the first stage of an epic three-month journey during which she will travel to 52 countries over the next 12 weeks.
Flying a tiny Shark Aero, the world’s lightest sports plane, Rutherford’s first flight was a short hop across the English Channel to the UK.
She'd originally planned to leave Belgium last week, but delayed the launch to install an improved camera system inside her plane to help her capture better quality footage as she flies around the globe.
Citing Amelia Earhart, the world’s most famous female aviator, as one of her inspirations, the teenager is now up in the air as her history-making voyage across the world’s oceans, deserts and wilderness gets under way.
Zara Rutherford's 52-country journey: from Iceland to Siberia, India to Dubai
On Wednesday, the young pilot flew from England to Aberdeen and is expected to fly from Wick, in the far north of Scotland, towards Iceland on Thursday. On Friday, she'll navigate onwards to Greenland and then her journey will take her west towards the Canadian Arctic.
Flying down the east coast of the US to Latin America she’ll travel as far as Colombia, then head back north over Mexico and up towards Alaska. From there, her flight plan moves towards the Siberian wilderness and across Russia, dipping south to take in China, the Philippines and Indonesia.
Heading north, she’ll cover India and then fly towards the UAE, where she’s expected to land in Dubai on October 23.
Hopping across to Saudi Arabia, she’ll then fly to Egypt, her last stop in the Middle East. Rutherford's journey then takes her back to Europe via Greece, Bulgaria, Slovakia and the Czech Republic before she heads into the home straight via Germany and France with a scheduled landing back in Belgium on November 4.
“I will be flying a Shark. It is a high-performance ultralight aircraft manufactured in Europe. It is incredibly fast with cruising speed reaching 300 kilometres per hour. The aircraft has been specially prepared for such a long journey,” Rutherford says.
The jet is also incredibly light, weighing only 325 kilograms – about half the weight of the average Arabian horse. The two-seat tandem aircraft has retractable gear, a variable-pitch propeller and a comfortable cockpit interior, which Rutherford will be thankful for as she's going to be clocking up a lot of hours at the controls.
Throughout her flight plan, the young pilot will prioritise smaller airfields and airports for landings where she will rest and refuel, with a few exceptions including New York’s JFK and Dubai International Airport.
Live flight tracking and TikTok updates
“With this flight I want to encourage girls and young women to pursue their dreams. I want to reduce the gender gap in aviation as well as in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (Stem),” Rutherford posted on her website FlyZolo, which has been set up for the record breaking attempt.
“My aim is to inspire young women and girls to pursue whatever they may be interested in, even if that is seen as traditionally male.”
To follow the teenager's record-breaking venture, visit FlyZolo, where you can track her flight live as she soars around the planet.
She will also document her journey on TikTok under @FlyZolo, which currently has reels featuring footage from the aircraft and highlights from her recent solo trip from Chicago to Egypt, where she stopped to dance at several airfields en route.
Grant Shapps, the UK’s Secretary of State for Transport, tweeted that the youngster was “breaking more than just soundwaves by inspiring young people to consider futures in aviation".
If successful, Rutherford will be the youngest woman to circumnavigate the world solo. She won't be the youngest pilot, as Travis Ludlow, 18, from the UK, completed a round-the-world flight in July this year.
She will, however, be the youngest pilot to complete the task in a microlight – as Ludlow flew a Cessna 172, which has four seats and weighs more than twice as much as Rutherford's Shark.
Her triumph will also claim the record from Shaesta Waiz, the first female certified civilian pilot from Afghanistan, who flew around the world solo in a single-engine aircraft at the age of 30 in 2017.
Funds raised from Rutherford's circumnavigation attempt will go towards helping Waiz's charity Dreams Soar, a non-profit that hopes to inspire women to enter Stem fields of study and careers.
Another charity that funds raised through her trip will support is Girls Who Code, an organisation that aims to increase the number of women working in computer science.