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Flying solo, 19-year-old woman aims to set aviation record

LONDON (Reuters) – A 19-year-old is paving the way for girls in STEM by setting the record for the youngest woman to fly solo around the world next month.

Belgian-British Zara Rutherford sets off on her 51,000 kilometre (32,000 miles) journey in her bespoke Shark ultralight plane, the world’s fastest microlight, on August 11.

Once complete, Rutherford will be the youngest person to fly a microlight around the world and the youngest woman to fly solo around the world. The current world record for the latter is held by Shaesta Waiz who completed the journey aged 30.

Rutherford hopes she will pave the way for girls and women in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) and inspire others to follow in her footsteps.

“I wanted to fly around the world, have the girls see me and think, I’d love to fly one day too,” she told Reuters.

“There is a difference in aviation between men and women. So my goal is to bring the records closer and then hopefully inspire other girls to try and beat my record and then go and start competing with the boys.”

Rutherford’s parents, Beatrice de Smet and Sam Rutherford, are both pilots themselves, although her mother had mixed feelings when her daughter announced her gap year plans.

“When she first told me about it, my heart skipped a beat. It took me a bit of time to digest. And now I’m so proud and fully, fully behind her,” she said.

The teenager will be funding the trip herself, with the help of sponsors, and she hopes to complete the journey in around two to three months.

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