‘Absolutely amazing’: Teenager becomes youngest person to fly solo around world

A 17-year-old Belgian-British pilot has become the youngest person to fly around the world solo in a small plane after taking off in March this year.

Mack Rutherford flew through 52 countries over five continents, crossing the equator twice after he took off from Bulgaria on 23 March this year.

He also beat a record held by his sister, Zara, who became the youngest person, and youngest woman ever, to fly around the world in an ultralight plane, aged 19, in January this year.

On Wednesday, he landed as scheduled on an airstrip west of Bulgaria’s capital, Sofia, where he had started his journey and where his key sponsor is based.

He has beaten the Guinness World Record for the youngest person to fly around the world solo, previously held by a Briton, Travis Ludlow, who completed the feat aged 18 years and 150 days. Rutherford turned 17 during the trip.

He revealed that challenges he had faced included sandstorms in Sudan, extreme heat in Dubai, airport closures in India, monsoon rains, and several technical issues. Most of the delays were caused by hold-ups in obtaining permits and other documents or having to alter scheduled routes if they were rejected.

But he said the “hairiest moment” had involved sleeping in a shed on an abandoned Pacific island while flying 11 hours across the Bering Sea, in the northern Pacific, from Japan to Alaska.

“After 10 hours, I arrived at this small island, it was starting to get dark, so I landed and it was quite low cloud, it was raining, it was getting quite dark, no lights on the runway,” he said.

“It’s actually an uninhabited island, so if anything had gone wrong I would be on my own, on that island, so really important that nothing went wrong. I landed there and had to sleep in a small shed on the side of the runway because it was completely abandoned for over 10 years.”

The flight took him through the African continent and the Gulf region to India, China, South Korea and Japan. He crossed the northern Pacific to Alaska and headed down the west coast of the US to Mexico, then he headed north again along the east coast of the US to Canada, and across the Atlantic Ocean to Europe.

On Wednesday, a huge crowd of people arrived at the airport to welcome Rutherford. Among them were the three members of his immediate family: his parents, who are both pilots, and his sister Zara.

His father, Sam Rutherford, said he was extremely proud of his children’s achievements. He told reporters that such an event was especially encouraging for children to follow their dreams and their parents to support them.

His sister Zara said she kept in close touch with her younger brother during his journey.

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

Mack is said to have dreamed of becoming a pilot since the age of three, becoming the youngest qualified pilot in the world in September 2020, when he was 15.

Just like Zara, Mack flew a Shark, one of the fastest ultralight aircraft in the world with a cruising speed reaching 300km/h (186mph). The aircraft was adapted from a two-seater to seat one with an additional fuel tank to enable him to make such a long journey and was on loan to Rutherford from his main sponsor, ICDSoft.

Rutherford said that although long, his trip had been “absolutely amazing”. “With this journey I’m also trying to show that young people can make a difference, you don’t need to be 18 to do something special – just follow your dreams and they will eventually come true.”