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News > Old Girls' Association > Spotlight on Zara Rutherford

Spotlight on Zara Rutherford

Fly Zolo - World Record Breaking Round the World Flight
Interviewed for OGA Chain magazine 2021
Interviewed for OGA Chain magazine 2021

At the time of going to print due to weather delays and visa expiry, Zara Rutherford (HA 2021) will be half way through an incredible adventure. Even though she just graduated from St Swithun’s this summer, she has already enbarked on the breath-taking challenge to become the youngest woman to fly solo around the world!

Zara is a 19 year-old Belgian, with an English father and Belgian mother who are both pilots. Her younger brother is also a qualified pilot. She holds dual nationality and completed her education in Belgium and England, joining St Swithun’s when she was 14. She specialised in mathematics, further mathematics, economics and physics at school and is hoping to become an astronaut. 

Before she left, Zara kindly gave us the answer to some of the many questions we had…

Why take on this challenge?
At first, I was planning to fly around the world as an adventure during my gap year, not realising I would become the youngest woman to do so if I achieved it. It was only when I started researching more that I noticed I could be the first Belgian and the youngest woman to solo circumnavigate the globe.

I’m hoping to get more girls interested in aviation. With this in mind I am supporting two non-profits that encourage girls and young women into science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). The non-profits are Dreams Soar and Girls Who Code. Dreams Soar aims to inspire women and girls to achieve their dreams and enter STEM fields of study and careers and Girls Who Code aims to support and increase the number of women in computer science by equipping young women with the necessary computing skills to pursue 21st century opportunities.

What route are you taking?
The route has been chosen to fulfil Guinness World Records’ requirements to be an ‘around the world flight’. It currently takes in 52 countries and crosses the equator twice to satisfy the ‘two antipodal’ requirements for an around the world flight. Antipodals are points perfectly opposite to each other on the earth (if you were to dig vertically down from where you are now, it’s where you would pop out on the other side). My antipodals are small towns: Tumaco in Colombia (just above the equator) and Jambi, Indonesia (just below the equator). I am hoping that they will ‘twin’ as a result of my visits.

I am incredibly excited by this route and can’t wait, there will be many challenges on the way but experiencing all these cultures (and their food!) will be amazing and worth it. I am most looking forward to South America and Greenland. 

The journey should take two to three months, but it is very dependent on weather. I am flying Visual Flight Rules (VFR) or solely by visual reference when possible so I need to make sure I won’t be flying in clouds or at night. I should accumulate around 250 hours of flying time.

I hope to meet the local schools at every stop, particularly the young girls. It is also my hope to stay with a local family each time as this is a fantastic way to understand where I am and with whom. It will make the entire experience much richer. 

What airplane will you fly?
A Shark ultralight, the world’s fastest microlight aircraft. It is extremely fast (300km/h), has a very long range, is very safe and extremely capable. Mine has been modified with extended range to 1800nm (3500km) and satellite communications. I would particularly like to thank Shark for their loan of such a beautiful machine. It has an exemplary safety record, including options for when/if anything goes wrong and I am receiving special training for problems both in the air and on the ground. I will also be following a‘Dunker’ course - how to safely get out of an aircraft that has ditched in the water.

What would you like to achieve by doing this? 
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.
Through my round the world trip I’m hoping to encourage other girls to start flying too or enter STEM related careers. Zara has already inspired 51 St Swithun’s girls to sign up for a taster flying lesson this term. 

Shaesta Waiz is the current female record holder and she was 30 years old at the time of her circumnavigation. The youngest male record holder currently is Travis Ludlow at 18, having just beaten Mason Andrews, who was 18 years and five months old at the time of his journey. The gap in ages between the men and the women is huge and shows the disparity in the number of male and female aviators.

With my journey, I am attempting to break the following Guinness World Records:
■ Youngest woman to fly solo around
the world.
■ First woman to circumnavigate
the world in a microlight
■ First Belgian to circumnavigate the
world solo in a single engine aircraft

Follow Zara’s adventures at

Post interview note: 

On 20 January 2022, the St Swithun's community was completely gripped watching the safe landing and ensuing celebrations of former student Zara Rutherford (HA 2021). What an amazing and inspirational achievement!

Zara is now officially the world's youngest woman, at 19, to fly solo around the world, covering five continents in a journey that lasted 155 days.

Since her return, Zara has featured in many newspapers, TV news programmes and even on Radio 4 Woman's Hour. If you would like to read more about her record-breaking flight, we have provided a selection of news links below:

Guinness World Records

BBC News

The Guardian

Sky News

Radio 4 Woman's Hour

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