Nfld. & Labrador

Teen pilot attempting to break women's solo flight record stops in Labrador

Zara Rutherford, 19, is attempting to become the youngest woman to fly around the world solo, and one of her first stops was Happy Valley-Goose Bay, where she landed on Monday.

Zara Rutherford wants to break a world record — and help girls smash an aviation glass ceiling

Belgian-British pilot Zara Rutherford is attempting to become the youngest woman to fly around the world. (Regan Burden/CBC)

Zara Rutherford is attempting to become the youngest woman to fly around the world solo, and one of her first stops was Happy Valley-Goose Bay, where she landed on Monday.

The Belgian-British pilot's three-month journey will take her across five continents and 52 countries. 

"I've still got a while to go, but I'm super-excited," she said in an interview with CBC Radio's Labrador Morning.

Rutherford, now 19, grew up around airplanes. Her parents are both pilots, and she got her own licence when she was just 15. 

"I've been flying my whole life. Apparently, my first flight was when I was three months old," she said.

She's always dreamed of flying around the world, she added, and her parents supported her when she told them what she wanted to do. 

Rutherford trained extensively before beginning her journey last week, accompanying her father on flights across the Atlantic Ocean. She then flew to destinations around Europe to get used to landing at different airports.

Rutherford's ultralight, two-seater plane is the fastest of its kind, she says. (Regan Burden/CBC)

She also had to learn to maintain her plane. She's flying a Shark UL, an ultralight two-seat aircraft that cruises at 140 knots. She said the plane is the fastest of its kind.

Rutherford also had to prepare for the mental strain of flying for long periods of time by herself. She's downloaded podcasts and music for the flights. She has rest days planned between legs of the journey.

Despite the periodic loneliness, Rutherford is basking in the freedom.

"You kind of forget the stress you have on the ground. It's just you and the plane and you're flying and that's it. There's no other distractions. It's just you and the plane."

Flying high

Rutherford flew across the Atlantic Ocean from Greenland to Labrador. She said the transatlantic journey was challenging but beautiful.

"I loved every minute of it," she said.

After landing in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, Rutherford attended a reception at the Lawrence O'Brien Arts Centre, where she answered questions from youth in the community.

Rutherford, who will be travelling over five continents and 52 countries, plans to arrive home in November. (Regan Burden/CBC)

Rutherford said she hopes her journey will inspire girls to pursue careers in STEM fields, especially aviation.

"Growing up I didn't see many women in aviation. Every now and again I'd see a female pilot, but to be honest they were quite rare," she said. "I'm hoping that with my flight and the media attention I've been getting, I can get some girls to be interested and hopefully get into aviation."

Rutherford also met the people who helped her father when he was involved in a plane crash in Labrador some years ago.

"It was really, really nice to finally meet the people and be able to thank them in person," she said.

After spending a day in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, Rutherford's next stop is Montreal. Next, she'll meet up with family in New York City before heading down the east coast of the United States.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from Regan Burden and Labrador Morning

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