British-Belgian teen aims to become youngest person to fly solo around the world

  • People
  • Monday, 28 Feb 2022

Mack aims to follow in his sister's footsteps by setting a Guinness World Record for the youngest male to fly around the world solo in a small plane. Photos: Matthew Childs/Reuters

A daredevil British-Belgian teenager is bidding to become the youngest person to fly solo around the world – after his elder sister managed her own inspirational feat just weeks ago.

Piloting a Shark ultralight plane, 16-year-old Mack Rutherford aims to circumnavigate the globe alone and beat Briton Travis Ludlow's same achievement set when he was 18 years and 150 days old.

Mack's lofty ambition follows his sister Zara, 19, who in January became the youngest female to fly solo around the world after she spent just over five months navigating the Earth's skies.

"So I actually couldn't have done it without her," Mack told AFP, as he announced his plans recently at the historic Biggin Hill airfield in Kent, southeast England.

"I always knew I wanted to do something special in my aviation career, but it's only after Zara flew around the world that I knew, yes, this is what I want to do.

"This is an amazing thing and so she actually helped bring me to this point."

Zara insisted the siblings, and the broader community of round-the-world flying enthusiasts, were not rivals but instead eager for new achievements to keep being set.

"We're really supportive of each other, making sure that we can help others break our records as much as possible," she explained. "I'm really excited, I think it's going to be really cool."Mack (left) and his sister Zara (second from left) with their parents at the Biggin Hill Airfield, Westerham in Britain. Mack (left) and his sister Zara (second from left) with their parents at the Biggin Hill Airfield, Westerham in Britain.

Doing something amazing

The Rutherfords' parents are both pilots – their father flew for Britain's Royal Air Force – and have handed down the passion to their children.

Both have been flying obsessives from an early age, with Mack qualifying for his pilot's licence in July 2020 aged just 15 years and two weeks.

However their mother, Beatrice de Smet, revealed she was initially reluctant to let her youngest embark on the risky endeavour.

"But he then wrote me a very long letter, explaining... why it was important for him to do it now," she said at the Biggin Hill announcement.

"And I cried a lot and then I said: 'Okay, you can go, I don't want to break your dream'."

Zara successfully circumnavigated the world in a tiny, 325kg Shark UL single-propellor plane, which her brother will now use for his bid.

It is one of the fastest light aircrafts, capable of cruising at speeds of up to 186 miles per hour (300km per hour).

During her round-the-world journey, Zara had to skirt around clouds and could not fly at night, meaning she had to divert or make hasty landings on many occasions.

That included landing abruptly last month just a short distance from Dubai to avoid getting caught in the first thunderstorm the Gulf city had seen in two years.

Although Mack conceded "there's always risk" solo piloting, he argued that ample planning mitigates those risks "to a point where actually it's very unlikely something bad will happen".

The teen added he hoped to show that "you don't have to be 18 to do something amazing".

"You don't have to wait. You can do something special now," he added. – AFP

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