There's nothing like Dubai: 19-yr-old flying solo across the world awed by UAE landscape

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Photo: flyzolo
Photo: flyzolo

The Belgian-British pilot touched down at Expo 2020 Dubai this week after a gruelling nine-hour flight from India


Anjana Sankar

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Published: Wed 5 Jan 2022, 3:38 PM

Last updated: Mon 22 May 2023, 3:11 PM

"There's nothing like Dubai in the world," says Zara Rutherford, who is on a mission to set a few Guinness World Records on her microlight aircraft.

A gap year often gives youngsters time to figure out what they want to do in life, and Rutherford has decided to fly solo around the world.

After having flown about 200 hours, stopped in 23 countries across four different continents, the plucky 19-year-old Belgian-British pilot touched down at Expo 2020 Dubai this week after a gruelling nine-hour flight from India.

"I had always dreamt of going on a big adventure; flying around the world is the biggest one that anyone can do. I love flying, and I decided to pursue my dream single-mindedly," Rutherford said.

The young pilot said she was awed by Dubai's landscape that looked incredible from her vantage point.

"There's nothing like Dubai in the world. Its skyscrapers are impressive, and its people are very kind. I'm not used to flying in this sort of climate, and that is unique for me."

"Expo is great. I visited the Women's Pavilion yesterday, and I'm visiting the Slovakia and UAE Pavilions today. All of these were very interesting, and I'd love to come back and have a look at more!" she told Khaleej Times.

Photo: flyzolo
Photo: flyzolo

Aiming for three Guinness Records

Rutherford aims to set three Guinness World Records: youngest woman to fly solo around the world; first woman to circle the globe in a microlight (a type of lightweight aircraft); and the first Belgian to circumnavigate the world in a single-engine aircraft.

She began her journey from Belgium on August 18, 2021, in her bespoke Shark Aero, a high-performance, two-seater, single-engine ultralight aircraft manufactured in Slovakia. She is scheduled to return to Belgium on January 13, 2022.

According to her website, if she completes her 32,000-mile journey (51,000 km), the young pilot will have travelled to 52 countries and five continents.

Rutherford's journey is unprecedented and incredibly challenging because she does not have any support staff travelling with her.

Her team includes her father, who is based in Belgium and helps her plan her route and organise logistics and landing permits.

No two legs of her journey are the same. She faced extreme weather conditions in Northern Russia; thunderstorms and lightning in Singapore; excessive turbulence and G-force warnings while flying over Alaska; delays in take-off due to smog in India; and communication challenges in Mexico.

Her longest journey was the nine-hour flight from Mumbai to the UAE. She says music keeps her calm during long stretches.

Photo: flyzolo
Photo: flyzolo

Flying is in the blood

Coming from a family of aviators, she says she is lucky to have great role models in her parents and grandparents.

"I want to build on this heritage and inspire others. I aim to encourage girls and young women to pursue their dreams and promote aviation and STEM-related careers (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) for them," said Rutherford.

Since the age of five, she has been accompanying her father in his small aircraft on flights to Africa. She holds FAA and UK private pilot licences, including those for Slovakian and French microlights, and she is a member of Honourable Company of Air Pilots since 2019.

Photo: flyzolo
Photo: flyzolo

Changing social attitudes

Rutherford said she hopes social attitudes towards women in aviation change through her accomplishments.

After finishing her extraordinary journey in the next nine days, the teenager said she plans to sleep when she reaches home. "I want to start university in September and share my experiences with people. This journey has made me realise the fragility of life and not take anything for granted."

The boarding-school-educated teenager plans to study computer engineering at university and eventually become an astronaut.

Rutherford also shared the stage at Expo with the first Emirati female pilot, Captain Aysha AlHameli, who achieved her aviation licence at 16.

Captain AlHameli said: "I think stories of Zara will not only inspire Emirati women but women all around the world to achieve things which are out of their comfort zone."

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