A 19-year-old is trying to become the youngest woman to fly around the world solo

A 19-year-old is trying to become the youngest woman to fly around the world solo

Nineteen-year-old Zara Rutherford was born to fly.

The Belgian-British teen is the daughter of two pilots, so when she announced she wanted to fly a tiny two-seat plane around the world alone, her parents were fully on board.

"I always thought it would be too unrealistic – it was impossible. It was complex, it was expensive," she told USA TODAY. "Then I figured … wouldn't it be better to start when I'm younger than rather than older, because then you get caught up in life and careers and jobs, and I didn't know if I would ever have an opportunity like this? I told my dad, 'This is an idea I have, and what do you think?'Straightaway, he says: 'Yes, we will find sponsorship. We'll make it work.'"

They did make it work, because Rutherford is in the midst of her solo flight across the globe, and if she completes it, she will be the youngest woman ever to do so. The record is now held by Shaesta Waiz, who flew around the globe solo when she was 30 years old.

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Waiz, who originally connected with Rutherford via a LinkedIn message, said she encouraged the young pilot to take down the record.

"I remember thinking: 'I cannot be the youngest woman. I'm not that young,'" Waiz told USA TODAY. "Here comes Zara, and she's just so ambitious and very smart. She reached out to me … to say that she was going to do this. The first thing she asked me, she said, 'Is it OK if I break your record?' I was like: 'Absolutely Zara. Records are meant to be broken.'"

A 19-year-old is trying to become the youngest woman to fly around the world solo

For Guinness World Records to consider the trip truly "around the world," Rutherford has to cross points on opposite sides of the globe. On her route, those spots are just below the equator in Columbia and just above the equator in Indonesia. She added nearly 5,000 miles to the trip so she would be able to visit more places.

Waiz said that while she did not directly help Rutherford plan her route, she did offer advice about weather and other challenges she might face during the journey.

"The weather can really turn on you at any time, so you really have to be just aware of what to expect in different parts of the world during the season," she said. "I told her: 'Only you know if you should take off. Try not to let anything pressure you or commitments you've made around the world. People can wait. At the end of the day, it's you in that plane, so do whatever is best for you.'"

Rutherford said her flights have been mostly smooth sailing, but she did have one stressful moment on her flight from Iceland to Greenland. Her plane cannot fly through clouds, and she hit an overcast system where the clouds forced her to drop to 600 feet. She said she considered turning back, but the clouds cleared up and she was able to continue to her next stop.

Waiz believes Rutherford's humility and intelligence give her a good chance to succeed.

"If you have an ego going into it, it can really hurt you, so I think Zara being very humble is definitely going to help," she said. "You just never know what Mother Nature's going to do. I feel like she's a pretty grounded person, and she has a really great intuition."

Waiz is founder and president of a nonprofit called Dreams Soar, which educates girls around the world about aviation. Dreams Soar is one of Rutherford's charity partners on her flight, and the teen will meet up with Waiz and local Women of Aviation chapter on her stop in Jacksonville, Florida.

Rutherford is projected to complete her trip on Nov. 3, and though she said the three months remaining are daunting, she is taking things one day at a time.

"It sounds like a lifetime, but actually, I'm really enjoying it. I rarely think about it as a whole. It's always one flying leg at a time. That way you kind of forget about the bigger picture."

Contact Emily Adams at eaadams@gannett.com or on Twitter @eaadams6.