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'Riding on a white bird with long wings': Woman flies ultralight aircraft across Atlantic

Aarohi Pandit from Mumbai, India, is flying around the world in her light-sport aircraft — in a year-long campaign geared to empowering women to follow their dreams. She arrived in Nunavut last week.

Aarohi Pandit says she broke world record as 1st woman to fly across Atlantic in ultralight plane

Aarohi Pandit, 23, poses at the Iqaluit airport with her Mahi — an light-sport aircraft — after flying across the Atlantic Ocean. (Travis Burke/CBC)

Aarohi Pandit flew across the Atlantic Ocean in an ultralight plane and just arrived in Nunavut — and she says it was "like I'm riding on a white bird with long wings."

The 23-year-old from Mumbai, India, has been flying since the age of 17. She's a commercial pilot at home, but recently decided to fly solo around the world in a year-long campaign to empower women.

"I just want girls, not just in India but around the world, to know that if you can dream it, you can do it," said Pandit, after flying more than 3,000 kilometres across the ocean in extreme weather conditions. 

Pandit started her Atlantic stretch in Scotland, and took off from Nuuk, Greenland, last Monday. It took her about four hours and 40 minutes to land in Iqaluit on Tuesday.

"I have seen men doing it. I got the thought that if men can do it, why can't a woman?"

Pandit says while four men have made the journey by light-sport aircraft, she's the first woman to fly across the Atlantic Ocean in the tiny aircraft named Mahi — a Sinus 912, light-sport aircraft, with a single engine, that weighs just over 400 kilograms.

"My aircraft is very small," she said. "It's an ultralight, very light aircraft, so there are lots of limitations."

Because of its size, it can only endure a few hours of flying at a time.

"It's fun," she said. "It's very light. I feel like I'm riding on a white bird with long wings." 

Rough weather, beautiful Baffin Island

Pandit says the journey didn't come without its bumps — the weather could change every half hour, she said.

I was happy to be on land again. It was quite cold. I was freezing.- Aarohi Pandit, pilot

"It was quite difficult to manipulate the winds and the clouds, and fly safe, keep myself and my plane safe over the ocean."

But Pandit says she enjoyed the views approaching Baffin Island.

"It was beautiful," she said. "Blue water everywhere, open skies. It was one of the most beautiful experiences I'll never forget."

Pandit's airplane at the Iqaluit airport. She says the journey didn't come without its bumps — the weather could change every half hour, she said. (Travis Burke/CBC)

And upon arrival, she was greeted with a warm cup of coffee.

"I was happy to be on land again. It was quite cold. I was freezing."

Pandit started in India, then stopped in Pakistan, Iran, Turkey, across Europe to Scotland, Iceland, Greenland and finally Canada.

Her longest stretch so far has been the first half of the Atlantic journey — from Scotland to Iceland — which took five hours and 20 minutes "because of vigorous winds."

Now, Pandit is almost halfway around the world. She'll fly to Alaska, then Russia, and eventually back home.

She's hoping to break more records in her circumnavigation journey back to India by July 30.

Written based on an interview by Meagan Deuling

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