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British-Belgian teen becomes youngest woman to fly solo round the world

A British-Belgian teenager became the youngest woman to fly solo around the globe on Thursday and the first person to do it in a microlight plane after a five-month, five-continent odyssey in her Shark ultralight.

Nineteen-year-old Zara Rutherford landed back at Kortrijk-Wevelgem Airport in Belgium after flying 51,000 km (32,000 miles) over 52 nations since her Aug. 18 departure in the world's fastest microlight aircraft.

"I wouldn't do it again," she confessed after the penultimate leg to a German village on Wednesday.

"There have been amazing moments, but then there's been moments where I had fear for my life," she added, picking New York and an active volcano in Iceland as her favorite flyovers.

After North and South America, Rutherford was stuck for a month in Alaska because of weather and visa delays. A winter storm forced another long stop in far eastern Russia before she traveled to South Asia, the Middle East, and back to Europe.

To meet the criteria for a round-the-world flight, Rutherford touched two points opposite each other on the globe: Jambi in Indonesia and Tumaco in Colombia.

'YOUNG WOMEN CAN BE AMBITIOUS'

She took the record from Afghan-born American Shaesta Wais, who in 2017 became the youngest woman to fly solo around the world at 30. The youngest male record holder, American Mason Andrews, was 18 when he did it in 2018.

Rutherford also became the first Belgian to circumnavigate the world solo in a single-engine aircraft.

Having gained her pilot's license in 2020 after training with her father since 14, she now wants to study engineering at a U.S. or British university from September.

Rutherford dreams of being an astronaut and hopes her voyage will encourage women in science, technology, and aviation.

"Boys learn through toys, street names, history classes, and movies that they can be scientists, astronauts, CEOs, or presidents," she said on her website.

"Girls are often encouraged to be beautiful, kind, helpful, and sweet. With my flight, I want to show young women that they can be bold, ambitious, and make their dreams come true." 

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