Mack Rutherford, 16, with his sister Zara, 19, at Biggin Hill airport, south of London. Photograph: Graeme Robertson/The Guardian
Tobi Thomas @tobithomas_Tue 15 Feb 2022 18.55 GMT
A little sibling rivalry is common in most families. But within a family of aviators, one child aiming to beat a world record held by his sibling could be seen to be taking it to the next level.
Mack Rutherford, a 16-year-old British-Belgian pilot, will begin his attempt to become the youngest person to fly across the world solo in a small plane on 17 March.
Rutherford’s parents are both pilots, and his 19-year-old sister, Zara, made history by becoming the youngest woman to fly across the world in January. She also became the youngest person to circumnavigate the world in a microlight, a Guinness world record her brother will break if he completes his attempt.
The Belgian-British pilot Zara Rutherford lands her ultralight Shark aircraft in Kortrijk, Belgium.
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Flying has been a passion of the younger Rutherford sibling since he was eight, frequently accompanying his father and flying with him. At 15 he became the youngest pilot in the world after qualifying for his pilot licence in July 2020.
Rutherford said he always wanted to do something special with his flying career, but it wasn’t until his sister made history that he knew he wanted to attempt the same. “I definitely think a lot of my inspiration for wanting to fly across the world comes from my sister,” he said.
If his attempt succeeds, he will also become the youngest male to fly solo across the world, a record currently held by Travis Ludlow, who completed the feat in 2021 at 18.
His journey will begin in Bulgaria, from where he will fly south to Africa, visiting countries including Madagascar and Mauritius. Next he will head north to Oman, crossing Russia, before heading to the US, Iceland, the UK, and then finishing his journey back in Bulgaria.
Rutherford’s mother, Beatrice De Smet, said she had reservations when her son told her what he wanted to do. “When Mack first told us that he wanted to fly across the world, I said: ‘No way.’ I didn’t want to hear about it because I thought he was too young.”
She didn’t change her mind until he wrote her a letter outlining how it was his passion to set the record. As a pilot herself, the one piece of advice she would give to her son is to always make sure he is confident in his abilities before setting off. “Never go if you don’t feel confident, for whatever reason,” she said.
Although Rutherford was looking forward to beginning his journey, there was still trepidation at the prospect of what truly flying solo at such a young age entailed. “I’m really quite excited, but obviously I’m quite nervous, particularly for long overseas journeys,” he said. “For one of my flights, I have to fly about eight hours over the ocean, and so if something goes wrong there isn’t much I can do. But I trust in my aircraft wholeheartedly.”
Rutherford will be flying in a Shark, one of the fastest ultralight aircrafts in the world with a cruising speed of up to 300km/h. It is the same aircraft his sister used for her record-breaking journey. The aircraft has been specially prepared for long journeys, and the trip is being sponsored by the web hosting company ICDSoft, which has loaned him the plane.
Balancing school-work with attempting this record-breaking feat is also something Rutherford has had to consider. Currently studying for A-levels in history, economics and biology, he said: “I’ve definitely had to ask teachers to extend homework for a few days, but they’ve supported me wholeheartedly.”