71 takeoffs and landings.
200 total hours of flying.
Over 52,000 km (28,000 nautical miles) flown.
31 countries visited.
155 days, from start to finish.
The youngest woman to fly around the world.
That's what Belgian 19-year-old Zara Rutherford did when she landed her Shark Zero microlight aircraft in Kortrijk, Belgium on January 20. And along the way, she inspired countless girls and women who saw her trip as a sign that they could also realize their own 'impossible' dreams.
Let's do this!
The daughter of two pilots, Zara practically grew up in an airplane. She began to learn how to fly at the age of 14. Somewhere in her teens, the idea of flying around the world came to her. But she quickly dismissed it. Flying around the world would be incredibly expensive, complicated, and time-consuming. And dangerous.
But after finishing high school, she started to reconsider her dream. As she said, in a TV interview, "I thought, 'Actually, if I'm going to do something crazy with my life, this is the perfect time to do it.'"
And do it, she did! Upon landing, she smashed the previous record for a woman flying around the world—Shaesta Waiz was 30 when she set the previous record. (For the record, Shaesta is also a big fan of Zara's and greeted her when she landed in Florida with words of encouragement. Awesome!)
Long waits and bad weather
Of course, the teenager faced multiple challenges on her trip. A journey like this must be so well-planned.
Zara needed to know exactly where she was going to land before taking off. She had to be sure she had enough fuel to reach each destination. She needed to have backup plans in case of bad weather. She needed to have visas (official government passes) to be allowed to land in foreign countries (remember, she visited 31 of them). And maybe, above all, she needed two things that you can never plan for.
Luck and the kindness of strangers.
Fortunately, Zara found these things, even when things got difficult. In Alaska and Russia, she was grounded (couldn't take off) for several weeks because of bad weather and visa delays. In these places, families took her in and gave her a place to live as she waited for things to change. Altogether, it extended the length of her trip by about two months.
When flying over California, she got stuck in clouds of wildfire smoke. Elsewhere, she encountered tropical storms, fog, and other obstacles. It sometimes became very frightening, but she kept her composure and was able to land safely.
Ultimately, Zara dreams of becoming an astronaut. It's hard to imagine that she won't meet that goal—this is one determined, brilliant person! But she had another, bigger goal she wanted to meet with this flight. And it sounds like she's already started to achieve it.
She wanted to inspire other girls to embrace careers in STEM. Zara is a math and science nut, and wants to study computer science and engineering in university. She is a person who believes that these careers should be open to anyone who wants them. And by literally taking flight to realize her own dream, she's proven her point to millions around the world.
Watch the video below for more highlights and facts from Zara's monumental journey!