Zara Rutherford, who reveals she used her Geography GCE to avoid thunderstorms as she flew across the Equator, is only 19 years old.

British-Belgian teenager, Sharky, has been flying around solo for five months with her 5-foot-3in frame on a cushion.

While on the road, she kept Sharky’s canopy closed and her elbow at 180mph. She also went fishing in Alaska for her dinner and spent the month in Russia without any English speaking companions, wi-fi, or even a copy of Jane Eyre.

Zara Rutherford, 19, in Russia. She was trapped in a costal village called Ayan for a month on her solo trip around the world

Zara Rutherford (aged 19), Russia. On her solo journey around the globe, she was stuck in Ayan for one month.

Her plane was encrusted in 1 inch of ice by the Baring Straits after she faced a South China Sea typhoon, California wildfire and temperatures to -35. 

She lost her airspeed gauge in the sky above New Mexico, and her landing gear jammed. So she spent Christmas Day fixing a flat tire in Singapore.

Next, there was lightning strikes – which would have decimated Sharky – right off Sharky’s left wing as she traveled to Indonesia.

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Zara in Ayan, Russia. The British-Belgian teenager has spent the last five months flying solo around the world with her 5ft 3 inch frame propped up on a cushion so she can see out of the cockpit of her ultra-light aircraft, Sharky

Zara in Ayan, Russia. British-Belgian teenager Zara has flown solo across the globe for five months, propped on a cushion and her 5-foot-3 inch frame. She can then see from the cockpit of Sharky, her ultralight plane.

After landing in Belgium after flying 31,700 km and visiting 52 countries, she laughed, laughing, at her heroes’ welcome.

On August 18th, last year, she flew after spending the last day of her life in ‘Dunker Training. This involves being strapped into a small helicopter, immersed in water and turned turtle before being told to climb out of a window.

According to her, she admitted that before taking off she was nervous. There was a possibility that I wouldn’t ever return to my home. Zara is not a dweller on the fact, but Zara’s courage and spirit of adventure may have cost her her life.

Her preternatural flying skills made her a legend: She was the youngest female to circumnavigate the globe solo and the first microlight pilot to do so.

She’s been awarded a Guinness World Record double entry before even starting university.

The epic trip took her three months to plan. It was actually a gap-year project after she had completed four A level courses at St Swithun’s Winchester school.

She contacted 500 companies asking for sponsorship as the trip was self-funded – and it says a lot about her perceived chances of success that only 20 replied.

The first day almost brought about disaster. Zara was headed for Aberdeen, when she realized that Sharky had not closed her canopy properly. It threatened to cause a devastating accident.

Zara in 2008. One of her next challenges is to increase the number of women in aviation as, at the moment, they only make up five percent

Zara 2008 She is currently focusing on increasing the percentage of female pilots, who make up only five percent of the aviation workforce.

The woman had to issue a pan-pan alert signal to Air Traffic Control (not as severe as a Mayday distress message) that she was experiencing trouble.

I received an alert on the screen that said the door was open. This is a huge problem. Wind can get under your canopy and tear it apart.

And what was she to do?

“I shoved it with my elbow, keeping it closed, and continued to push it. This was terrifying. Although I had prepared myself for an engine failure, my canopy was not.

It can blow away completely, leaving you flying and unable to see the wind. You’ll need your seatbelt in case it does. The worst case scenario is that it hits your tail.

It was possible to fix the latch mid-air by twisting it the last few millimetres to secure it. “So, thankfully, I won’t have to worry about what will happen if your canopy falls off.

While she loves Sharky, it is a long journey of eight hours – roughly the same length as a flight from London to New York or the Caribbean – that her family takes.

In case she has to go, she won’t be able to drink and can’t have food. Because of the extreme flying conditions, she was able to keep her seat in the cockpit for 40 hours.

“Flying between Mumbai and Dubai, I was blinded by the smog for two and a quarter hours.

I couldn’t see either the left nor the right or the ocean below. Although there was some blue sky visible straight up to indicate that I was at level flight, it was not my sole reference. It was eight very long hours.

This was by no means the most difficult leg of her trip. This honour belongs to her series of flights across the frozen roofs of the globe. 

Sharky weighs in at 75 stone and is powered by a smaller battery than a family car. Sharky is not equipped with a parachute, but Zara might not have been able to save her from the Arctic Tundra if its engine failed.

Zara was trapped in Nome, Alaska for one month due to poor weather. She watched as the hours of sunlight (which Zara needs) decreased.

She had already gotten a forecast window, and was heading for Anadyr on Russia’s north east tip. Winter was coming in, and the temperatures were high into the 20s.

Anadyr was the place she flew to, and Magadan was her destination. It is a small city where Stalin had used to establish his labor camps.

“If the engine had stopped at any time, I don’t know how much longer, and in temperature of -20 to -30, it would have been possible for me to survive. To be truthful, I was searching for an excuse to stop going. 

“Four hour into my flight, I knew I didn’t have enough fuel nor sunlight to go to Anadyr. That was when I decided to stay committed.”

She made it to Magadan, got stuck there for a week…and then her luck really ran out.

Even though she was able get off the ground, she was forced to land at Ayan in Russia’s costal village.

Only 800 people spoke English fluently, and Zara can only speak English trilingually (English Flemish French), and her Russian is limited to asking for tea.

Red caviar, however, was in plentiful supply.

“Someone gifted me Jane Eyre. Although I was almost going to toss it to cut down on weight, I decided to keep it as entertainment for my four-weeks.

The weather was horrible, but the people were great. It was easy to knock at the door of anyone and request food or drinks.

The takeoff was down a valley and into the ocean. When it came to going, there was no denying that I had made the right decision.

It wasn’t just the weather that proved to be a problem, but her entire journey required permissions, visas, and, of course, avoidance of North Korean airspace.

She unwittingly caused a security panic in Taipei

“I was asked by Air Traffic Control to fly over a school in the Philippines on my leg from Tapei to Tapei. I followed the instructions of Air Traffic Control, but I saw an Air Force base next to the school. I also heard that a Taiwanese newspaper accused me last week of violating the rules.

Zara was a fan of flying to Asia and Middle East. She loved to descend to the desert to observe camels, but she began to feel homeick from cultural differences. 

“Everything was different, food, culture and climate. Music was something that I relied on. It was small, yet it had a great impact.

A good toothbrush was also helpful. My family and my pets were missing me, as well as walking in the woods, which is all that makes home home.

The only thing she luxuries was expensive shampoo and conditioner. Her rucksack also contained three T-shirts, jeans, and jumpers as well as her electronics.

Sharky gave up all other bags and fuel she was carrying, so she carried only one bag.

Zara in Alaska. She was trapped in Nome for a month by poor weather, and watched as the number of daylight hours (which she needs to fly) fell

Zara in Alaska. Poor weather kept Zara in Nome for over a month. She watched as daylight hours fell, which she needed to fly.

Unsurprisingly, the beautiful sea route that connects the British Virgin Islands with Colombia was one of her most favorite flights.

Zara was worried about the possibility of tropical thunderstorms, but her Caribbean corner was peaceful.

“It’s in an Intertropical Convergence Zone. She says she had heard about this in Geography while doing my GCSs. Although it didn’t occur to me at the time, it became a problem in real life.

America was the setting for her most impulsive decision. She flew out from New York’s JFK Airport and was short on time. After landing at night, she had to fly home via a deserted airport in Washington, North Carolina.

After a bizarre call to the cab company, she thought she was in Washington DC. She was left stranded in pitch darkness until one car pulled up in an empty lot. 

Although she didn’t see the driver, she approached him and offered to take her to a hotel.

She said, “It’s funny,” she added, “I’ve flown the world alone, and when I tell my friends that part of the story, people say, “Zara!” “You did what?”

She made her penultimate trip to Frankfurt, Germany. There she said that “I felt far from home.”

“It was Alaska that I stopped believing in myself getting back. The end of my trip was extremely blurred.”

But she made her final touch down on Thursday – with a show-off low pass and an honour guard of Belgian Red Devils – to hugs from her British father Sam and Belgian mother Beatrice.

Zara in Saudi Arabia. The teenager loved flying in Asia and the Middle East where she would descend to watch camels in the desert, but cultural differences made her start to feel homesick

Zara in Saudi Arabia. Zara in Saudi Arabia.

Sam is an ex-military helicopter pilot. Beatrice, on the other hand is qualified to fly private aircraft. 

Sam owns a company that specializes in logistics for movie and flying events. His daughter was helped by Sam to create plans and get sponsorship.

Beatrice is now her EE Manager.

Zara states that EE stands “Everything Else”.

Was there anything she learned from her incredible journey?

“That I’m capable of doing more than I ever thought possible. When you fly, it is impossible to give up. You cannot say “I’m not doing this anymore,” as you must get back on the ground. It is not your choice.

Her lesson to us is that it doesn’t make sense for a parent to helicopter-parent your child.

Zara plans to travel to the UK to visit family and friends. The next task is choosing a university. She also has other ambitions, including climbing a mountain and caving with spiders.

Moreover, increase the proportion of women working in aviation, as they currently make up just five percent.

She wants to become an astronaut as a profession. She doesn’t limit herself.