Teenage pilot Zara Rutherford hopes to be the youngest woman to fly solo around the world

A teenage pilot has set off on an attempt to become the youngest woman to fly solo around the world.

When most students are taking a gap year, they often go backpacking or work to gain experience and save some money before college. But Zara Rutherford wanted to do something different.

"It's a dream I've had for a really long time, but it always seemed unrealistic," says Rutherford, who holds dual British-Belgian nationality. "When I decided to take a year out before I go to university, I realised, I've got all this time -- I might as well do something crazy with it."

The former pupil of St Swithun's School, Winchester, aims to fly over 52 countries and cross the equator twice during her trip.

The current female record holder is American Shaesta Waiz, who was 30 at the time of her challenge in 2017. The youngest male record holder was 18.

Rutherford isn't new to flying. Both her parents are pilots and Rutherford has been learning to fly since she was 14 -- although she only started formal flying lessons and got her first licence in 2020.

Zara's preparation has included dunker training - practising how to get out of an aircraft under water - as well as maintenance of her plane.

The circumnavigation includes 70 planned stops with 19 rest days and is due to conclude back in Kortijk on 4 November.

With over 80 flight hours officially logged, and hundreds more uncounted, Rutherford describes her flight experience as "quality over quantity."

The two-month trip is self-funded, and the teenager has sold her car to help pay for it, as well as seeking out sponsors.

Another cost of the trip is the environmental impact. While Rutherford says the total fuel for her trip is the equivalent to the amount used in 10 minutes by a Boeing 747, she's spending €600 ($710) on tree-planting projects to offset her carbon footprint.

Headmistress Jane Gandee said her former pupil was a "self-deprecating young woman who models determination, initiative and a healthy disregard for stereotypes".

"She has become aware of how girls and women are under-represented in some areas of life, particularly aviation, science and technology and she wanted to do something to counter this," Ms Gandee added.