17-year-old pilot sets world record for solo flight

SOFIA, Bulgaria (AP) — A 17-year-old pilot became the youngest person to fly solo around the world in a small plane after landing on Wednesday in Bulgaria, where his flight took off five months ago.

Mac Rutherford, a Belgian-British dual national, has landed on an airstrip west of the Bulgarian capital Sofia, to complete his mission and claim two Guinness World Records. Besides being the youngest person to fly around the world alone, Rutherford is the smallest person to circumnavigate the world in a lightweight aircraft.

Rutherford said he hopes his achievement will inspire young people to pursue their dreams.

“Just follow your dreams, whatever your age – work hard and move forward to achieve your goals,” he said after getting off the plane.

His sister Zara, who finished her world tour in January at the age of 19, previously held the lightweight record. Mac Rutherford took the age record from Britain’s Travis Ludlow, who was 18 when he made a solo round-the-world trip last year.

The voyage, which began on March 23, took Rutherford across 52 countries over five continents. He turned 17 during the flight. To put a mark recognized by the Guinness Book of Records, he crossed the equator twice.

Born into a family of pilots, Rutherford qualified for his pilot’s license in 2020, which at the time made him the world’s youngest pilot at 15 years old.

His solo round-the-world trip took off in Bulgaria because his sponsor, ICDSoft web hosting company, is based in Sofia and loaned him the plane.

Like his sister, Rutherford flew the Shark, one of the world’s fastest lightweight aircraft with a cruising speed of up to 300 kilometers per hour (186 mph). Usually two-seater, it was modified for its long ride by replacing the second seat with an additional fuel tank.

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The initially planned trip took up to three months to complete, much longer due to the many unexpected obstacles along its path, including monsoon rains, sandstorms and extreme heat.

But most of the delays were caused by waiting for permits and other documents required for another flight or having to change the scheduled route if it was refused.

The journey took him across Africa and the Gulf region to India, China, South Korea, and Japan. He crossed the North Pacific Ocean and landed after 10 continuous hours in the air on a volcanic island near the Bering Strait.

From there, head to Alaska and down the west coast of the United States to Mexico. Then Rutherford headed north again along the eastern coast of the United States to Canada, and across the Atlantic Ocean to Europe.

On Wednesday, a large crowd of people arrived at the airport to welcome Rutherford and celebrate his accomplishments. Among them were three members of his immediate family.

His father, Sam Rutherford, said he was very happy and proud of his children’s accomplishments. He told reporters that such an event especially encourages children to follow their dreams and parents to support them in their endeavours.

His sister, Zara Rutherford, said she kept in close contact with her younger brother during his trip.

“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 way, during the flight, so that I might be of use to him.

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Mac Rutherford said he would now focus on his education.

“The next thing I will do is go back to school and make up as much as I can,” he said.

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