HAPPY VALLEY-GOOSE BAY, N.L. — A teenage pilot hoping to be the youngest woman to fly solo around the world landed in Labrador Monday, proud to have finished her first transatlantic flight and the hardest part of her journey.
Nineteen-year-old Zara Rutherford began her adventure on Aug. 18 in Belgium, where she was born. She aims to end it sometime in November, when she'll land on the exact spot from which she took off, thus closing her circular path around the Earth.
She said she knew the long hours looking at nothing but the vast, grey Atlantic Ocean would be difficult, adding that she's glad she tackled it at the beginning of her trip.
"It's kind of freaky, it's weird — you start getting optical illusions," Rutherford said in an interview Tuesday. "When you're in the air like that for three, four hours, you start thinking you're seeing land … and then you start struggling to differentiate between the water and the sky, or the water and the clouds."
Flying over Greenland was also a towering challenge, she said, with the high terrain and ferocious winds. "I think now I've really got the confidence to get me going."
Rutherford has always wanted to be a pilot, but she said she had found it disappointing so few pilots were women. She's hoping her efforts to break the world record for the youngest woman to fly solo around the world will inspire more girls to get into aviation and to explore science, mathematics and engineering.
The inspiration for the quest came easy to the young aviator: "Flying around the world is the ultimate thing you can do," she said.
Her plane of choice is a Shark.Aero two-seat, tandem, ultralight single-engine aircraft. The plane is just under seven metres long, with a wingspan of nearly eight metres, according to the manufacturer's website. It weighs about 300 kilograms when empty.
Rutherford made stops in the United Kingdom, Iceland and Greenland before arriving in Labrador on Monday evening to a large, welcoming crowd at the Happy Valley-Goose Bay airport.
"I had a lot of pressure on the landing; I had to make sure that the landing was good," she joked.
She had intended to leave Labrador on Tuesday, but unfavourable weather kept her on the ground. Instead, she'll leave Wednesday morning, she said, en route for Montreal and then New York City.
— By Sarah Smellie in St. John's.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 24, 2021.
The Canadian Press