European teen becomes youngest to fly solo around the world

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A 17-year-old pilot became the youngest person to circumnavigate the world solo in a small plane after landing in Bulgaria on Wednesday, where his journey began five months ago.

Mack Rutherford, a Belgian-British dual national, landed on an airstrip west of the Bulgarian capital, Sofia, to complete his task and claim two Guinness World Records. As well as becoming the youngest person to circumnavigate the globe by himself, Rutherford is the youngest person to circumnavigate the globe in a microlight.

Rutherford said he hopes his achievement will inspire young people to pursue their dreams.

“Just follow your dreams, no matter what your age – work hard and move forward to achieve your goals,” he said after stepping out of the plane.

His sister, Zara, who completed her own world flight in January aged 19, previously held the ultralight record. Mack Rutherford has taken the age record from Britain’s Travis Ludlow, who was 18 when he flew solo around the world last year.

The journey, which began March 23, took Rutherford through 52 countries on five continents. He turned 17 during the trip. To establish a mark recognized by the Guinness World Records, he crossed the equator twice.

Coming from a family of aviators, Rutherford obtained his pilot’s license in 2020, which made him the youngest pilot in the world at the age of 15 at the time.

Belgian-British teenager Mack Rutherford is the youngest pilot at 17 to fly solo around the world on a small plane.
AP Photo/Virginia Mayo
Mack Rutherford, 17, successfully landed his plane at Skydive West Airport in Sofia, Bulgaria on August 24, 2022. Mack Rutherford succeeded in his bid to become the youngest person to fly around the world solo in a small plane and broke the Guinness World Record.
Mack Rutherford hopes to inspire more young aviators to take global flight routes.
Borislav Troshev/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

His solo trip around the world started in Bulgaria because his sponsor, web hosting company ICDSoft, is headquartered in Sofia and lent him the plane.

Like her sister, Rutherford flew a Shark, one of the fastest ultralight aircraft in the world with a cruise speed of up to 300 km/h (186 mph). Normally a two-seater, it was modified for its long journey by replacing the second seat with an additional fuel tank.

Originally planned to last up to three months, the journey took longer due to several unexpected obstacles in its path, including monsoon rains, sandstorms and extreme heat.

Mack Rutherford holds his Guinness World Record certificates after landing at Sofia West Airport near Radomir, Bulgaria on August 24, 2022.
Mack Rutherford holds his Guinness World Record certificates after landing at Sofia West Airport near Radomir, Bulgaria on August 24, 2022.
NIKOLAY DOYCHINOV/AFP via Getty Images

But most of the delays were caused by waits to obtain permits and other documents required for a later flight or by the need to change the planned route if they were rejected.

The flight took him through Africa and the Gulf region to India, China, South Korea and Japan. He crossed the northern Pacific and landed after 10 uninterrupted hours in the air on a volcanic island near the Bering Strait.

From there it headed to Alaska and along the west coast of the United States to Mexico. Rutherford then headed north along the east coast of the United States to Canada and across the Atlantic Ocean to Europe.

British-Belgian teenage pilot Mack Rutherford (R), 17, poses next to his sister Zara (L) after landing at Buzet flying club with his Shark ultralight plane, in Pont-a-Celles, Belgium , August 23, 2022.
Mack Rutherford’s sister, Zara, is the youngest woman to fly across the world.
OLIVIER HOSLET/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock
17-year-old British-Belgian pilot Mack Rutherford prepares to land at Buzet airfield in Pont-A-Celles, Belgium on Tuesday August 23, 2022.
Mack Rutherford received a pilot’s license at the age of 15.
AP Photo/Virginia Mayo

On Wednesday, huge crowds of people had arrived at the airport to welcome Rutherford and celebrate his accomplishments. Among them were the three members of his immediate family.

Her father, Sam Rutherford, said he was extremely happy and proud of his children’s accomplishments. He told reporters that such an event especially encourages children to pursue their dreams and parents to support them in their endeavors.

Her sister, Zara Rutherford, said she stayed in close contact with her younger brother during her trip.

“While he was flying, I was constantly trying to keep in touch and help him. Our parents called him every day and I participated in these conversations. I gave him advice on the route, on the flight , so that I can be useful to him,” she said.

Mack Rutherford said he will now focus on his education.

“The next thing I’m going to do is go back to school and catch up as much as I can,” he said.

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