Piloting a single-engine plane through the mountainous regions of the Pacific Northwest and onward to Alaska in the autumn can be daunting, with plenty of weather and terrain challenges.
Then consider that it’s just one short portion of a round-the-world journey, crossing oceans and landing in more than 50 countries across five continents.
She’s also not instrument rated, which means she is doing the whole trip via visual flight rules.
Zara Rutherford is a 19-year-old Belgian pilot, flying a high-performance Shark Aero ultralight aircraft. If she succeeds in her journey, she will become the youngest woman to fly solo around the world, as well as the youngest person to fly solo around the world in a microlight.
She departed Belgium in August, 2021, and stopped in Seattle Sept. 19, before heading north toward Alaska a couple days later.
She we greeted by a small crowd of supporters, including representatives from the airport, Museum of Flight and several businesses from the airfield. Shortly after talking with the group of well-wishers, she was taken on a private tour of the museum.
Appropriately enough, we got a chance to chat with Zara in front of the museum’s replica of Amelia Earhart’s Lockheed Electra. We only had time for a brief chat, as she was tired from the long flight and still needed to move her plane to its overnight parking location.
Asked about her decision to do the circumnavigation without instrument rating, she simply replied, “why not?”
“I wanted a challenge. I wanted to see the world – not just fly around at X thousand feet,” she said. “If you’re in the overcast you can be anywhere – you can be in Egypt or in Russia – it doesn’t really matter.”
And, something close to this AvGeek’s heart – I wanted to know why she chose this particular light-sport aircraft for such a journey. Her reply was appropriately businesslike: “It has a good cruising speed, good fuel consumption, and good range. And I received a business proposal where they would let me use the plane in exchange for the publicity.”