Teenage pilot Zara Rutherford joyfully touched down after completing a solo, round-the-world odyssey in which she faced bad weather, Covid-19 restrictions and a number of hasty landings, including one near Dubai.
The 19-year-old will officially become the youngest woman to circumnavigate the globe on her own once Guinness World Records confirms her stats.
She landed on Thursday at an airfield outside the Belgian town of Kortrijk a little more than five months after she set off on August 18, 2021.
“I've been through some stuff. So many countries, so many kilometres, but every single one was amazing,” Ms Rutherford said.
“It will be very strange to not to have to fly every single day any more — or try to fly every single day. I'm just happy to finally be in the same spot for, you know, a few months hopefully.”
She said Russia's vast, frozen Siberia was the “scariest” leg of her journey: a place of overwhelming distance between habitations and where the temperature could drop below minus 30ºC.
“I'd be going hundreds and hundreds of kilometres without seeing anything human — I mean no electricity cables, no roads, no people — and I thought if the engine stopped, I'd have a really big problem,” she said.
She also spent three weeks in November grounded by bad weather in Russia's eastern coastal town of Ayan, relying on locals who were “very willing to help with anything I might need".
Navigating the world in a tiny, 325-kilogram Shark UL single-propeller plane, lent to her under a sponsorship deal, meant she had to skirt around clouds and could not fly at night.
The restrictions meant she often had to divert or make hasty landings — including one earlier this month a short distance from Dubai to avoid being caught in a rare thunderstorm.
Despite being airborne, she was not able to escape the Covid-19 pandemic and related restrictions.
China banned her from its airspace because of virus curbs, “which meant I had to do a huge detour to avoid North Korea — and that took six hours over water”, she said.
“That was a pretty nerve-racking experience.”
The highlights of her trip included flying around the Statue of Liberty, seeing a SpaceX launch in California, soaring above Saudi Arabia's landscape, stopping in Colombia, seeing an isolated house on an Icelandic island and powering through Bulgaria's valleys.