A Belgian woman is trying to set a record for being the youngest ever to fly solo around the world. The airport in Juneau will be her first stopover in Alaska.
Zara Rutherford, 19, left Belgium Aug. 18. Right now, she is near the halfway mark in her 27,685 nautical mile journey through more than 50 countries.
Yvette Soutiere is the fixer for Rutherford’s stopover in Juneau, currently scheduled for as early as Sunday.
Soutiere remembers as a child becoming entranced listening to air traffic control and cockpit radio communications while riding aboard an airliner. She dreamed of learning to fly.
“I know that when I was a little girl, I was told: ‘One, you’re female. Two, you’re too short. Three, no one would ever hire you as a woman,’” Soutiere remembers. “And so, I waited until I was in my forties to get my pilot’s license.”
Soutiere said it may be slightly different in Alaska. But the number of women pilots overall is still extremely low.
“Women pilots make up 7% to 8% of all of the pilots in the United States,” she said. “In the world, the number is approximately 4%.”
Rutherford is going around the world solo to show other girls and young women they can fly, too. And, to inspire them to get into science, technology, engineering, and math fields.
During a recent interview on CNN, Rutherford said flying ten hours a day for two or three months straight would be tiring and pretty dangerous. So, she’ll limit her time in the air.
“I’ll be flying up to five hours a day,” Rutherford said. “And then every three days, taking a break just to make sure that I’m in the right mindset, I’m all excited, ready to go, (and) not too tired.”
“And that way, I’ll successfully go around the world.”
Rutherford is flying a Shark ultralight. It’s designed for long-range, cross-country flight with a maximum cruising speed of over 180 miles per hour.
Soutiere said Ward Air is providing hangar space for Rutherford’s stopover in Juneau.
An airport employee will host her overnight. And, an anonymous donor will pay for Rutherford’s fuel for the next leg of her flight.
As for Soutiere, she got her pilot’s license and flew solo just four years ago. She said there’s nothing like breaking gravity and truly moving in three dimensions.
“I find that I really tap into my insignificance, which is almost a spiritual experience because the whole world is so big and you are so small,” she said. “When you’re up in the air, you really get that feeling.”
After Rutherford leaves Juneau, she’ll head to Anchorage, Nome, and then on through the Russian Far East to southern Asia and then Africa.
Weather permitting, she’s scheduled to complete her around-the-world journey in Belgium in late October or November.