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 journey began five months ago.
Mack Rutherford, a Belgian-British dual citizen, landed on a runway west of the Bulgarian capital Sofia, to complete his task and claim two Guinness World Records. Rutherford is not only the youngest person to have flown around the world alone, but is also the youngest person to circumnavigate the globe in an ultralight aircraft.
Rutherford said he hoped his achievement would inspire young people to pursue their dreams.
“Just follow your dreams, no matter how old you are — work hard and move forward to achieve your goals,” he said after stepping off the plane.
His sister, Zara, who completed her own global flight in January at the age of 19, previously held the ultralight record. Mack Rutherford took over the age record from Britain’s Travis Ludlow, who was 18 when he made a solo round-the-world flight last year.
The journey, which began on March 23, took Rutherford through 52 countries across five continents. He turned 17 during the trip. To set a mark recognized by the Guinness World Records, he crossed the equator twice.
Born into a family of aviators, Rutherford qualified for his pilot’s license in 2020, making him the youngest pilot in the world at age 15.
His solo trip around the world started in Bulgaria because his sponsor, the web hosting company ICDSoft, is headquartered in Sofia and lent him the plane.
Like his sister, Rutherford flew a Shark, one of the fastest microlights in the world with a cruising speed of 300 km/h (186 mph). Normally a two-seater, it was adapted for its long journey by replacing the second seat with an extra fuel tank.
Initially, the journey was planned to take up to three months, but the journey took longer due to several unexpected obstacles in its way, including monsoon rains, sandstorms and extreme heat.
But most of the delays were caused by waiting times in obtaining permits and other documents needed for onward flights or having to change the planned route if they were rejected.
The flight took him through Africa and the Gulf region to India, China, South Korea and Japan. It crossed the North Pacific Ocean and after 10 continuous hours in the air, landed on a volcanic island near the Bering Strait.
From there he went to Alaska and up the west coast of the United States to Mexico. Rutherford then went north again along the American east coast to Canada and across the Atlantic to Europe.
On Wednesday, a huge crowd of people had arrived at the airport to welcome Rutherford and celebrate his achievements. Among them were the three members of his immediate family.
His father, Sam Rutherford, said he was extremely happy and proud of his children’s achievements. He told reporters that such an event is especially encouraging for children to follow their dreams and for parents to support them in their endeavors.
His sister, Zara Rutherford, said she kept in close contact with her younger brother during his trip.
“While he was flying, I tried to keep in constant contact and help him. Our parents called him every day and I joined in those conversations. I gave him advice about the route, about the flight, so that I could be of use to him,” she said.
Mack Rutherford said he will now focus on his education.
“The next thing I’m going to do is go back to school and catch up as much as possible,” he said.