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Teen sets off to break women's solo flight round-world record

The flight venture is estimated to take her two to three months.
Credit: AP
Belgian-British teenager Zara Rutherford waves from her Shark Ultralight airplane prior to take off at the Kortrijk-Wevelgem airfield in Wevelgem, Belgium, Wednesday, Aug. 18, 2021. A Belgian-British teenager took to the skies Wednesday in her quest to become the youngest woman to fly around the world solo. Nineteen-year-old Zara Rutherford took off from an airstrip in Wevelgem, Belgium, in an ultralight plane looking to break the record set by American aviator Shaesta Waiz, who set the world benchmark at age 30 in 2017. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)

KORTRIJK, Belgium — Wheels up: A Belgium-British teenager has set off to break the world record as the youngest woman to fly solo around the world.

At 19 years old, Zara Rutherford took off on her three-month adventure from Kortrijk, Belgium, just before 10 a.m. BST, the BBC reports — that's 5 a.m. EST.

She took off an hour late due to weather conditions, with the Associated Press reporting gusty and overcast conditions. Rutherford reportedly made her official first stop an hour and a half later at Popham Airfield in Hampshire.

According to the BBC, the former student of St Swithun's School, Winchester, plans to fly over 52 countries and zip pass the equator twice during her trip.

The young pilot is aiming to break the record previously set by American aviator Shaesta Waiz, who was 30 years old in 2017 when she set the world standard.

The men's record is held by Travis Ludlow of Britain. He set the record when he was 18 for a solo round the world flight.

Flying around the world is certainly not a task for an amateur. Preparation for this course has included dunker training — practicing how to get out of an aircraft underwater — as well as maintenance of her plane, the BBC says.

As far as how Rutherford is going to travel around the globe in two to three months, the circumnavigation includes 70 planned stops with 19 rest days and is due to conclude back in Kortrijk, Belgium on Nov. 4. She told the AP she will be up in the air for five or six hours at a time. 

The teen pilot is flying a Shark UL aircraft. And it's too small for long-distance flying over the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, AP says. Instead, Rutherford plans to fly up through Europe and over Greenland. Next, she’ll head down through the United States, then back up to Alaska to cross the Pacific. From there, she’ll head across Asia back to Europe.

Rutherford comes from a line of pilots in her family. She's been traveling in small planes since the age of 6, the AP reports, and started flying herself at age 14. In total, she's logged about 130 hours of solo flights. 

She said she wants to inspire girls and young women to get into aviation as well as find interests in STEM which stands for science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

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While a trip this long alone sounds lonely and boring, Rutherford says she has a plan to combat fatigue on this long trek.

She told the Associated Press she will be on the phone with her parents often, and friends and family. Although she can't watch movies while in flight, she has music and podcasts lined up.