Teen pilot hopes to become youngest to fly solo around the world

It’s a goal many pilots have dreamed of but few have accomplished, but that’s not deterring Mack Rutherford.

The 17-year-old from Belgium is nearing completion of becoming the youngest pilot to fly solo around the world. His older sister, Zara, became the youngest woman to fly solo around the world when she was 19 years old in January 2022. 

"When I got my license, I was 15 and you’re asked what to do with that license but I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do," Rutherford told FOX Television Stations from New York, where he’s making a pit stop. 

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The teen said he was inspired by his sister’s feat. 

Rutherford said he started his journey at 16, taking off from Bulgaria on March 23. He hopes to touch back down in Bulgaria in late August or September. 

So far, his travels have taken him through Africa, the Middle East, Asia, and North America. He will continue on to Canada, Greenland, and the United Kingdom before heading back to Bulgaria. 

His followers are able to keep up with his journey and follow along his route on his website. 

Taking an interest in flying

Rutherford said he always had an interest in flying. 

"I’ve basically been flying my whole life because both my parents are pilots," he said. 

The teen said he started flying more frequently when he was around 10 years old and that’s when his interest in aviation solidified. 

"It’s just an amazing thing that I discovered, and I actually love flying," he added. 

The ups and downs of the journey

Rutherford is currently flying in a Shark ultralight plane, flying no higher than 5,000 feet, which he says is pretty low for a pilot. 

"I see a lot of the world, and I think just constantly being able to see something makes it a lot easier to stay awake and keep my mind focused," he continued. 

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He is the only person onboard, although he has a sponsored team in Belgium monitoring his travels as well as locals helping him out with accommodations in places where he lands. 

Rutherford said wherever he stops, he tries to take in the sights as his schedule permits. So far, he said Attu Island, uninhabited land that is a part of Alaska, was his best stop. 

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Mack Rutherford hopes to become the youngest pilot to fly solo around the world.  (Mack Rutherford)

"I’ve never been able to experience a place where there’s truly nobody," he said. 

Rutherford said he doesn't mind flying solo.

"Once you’re actually in the flight, you’re kind of in the zone. You’re busy doing things," he continued. "Your entire focus is on that...on the job at hand."

But there have been scary moments. Rutherford said his backup fuel tank wasn’t working while he was flying over Egypt, and he thought he may have to perform an emergency landing. He said it started working once he flew at a lower altitude and was able to finish that leg of the trip. 

"That was definitely a very stressful moment...when you don’t have enough fuel to reach your destination," he added. 

Lessons learned from around the world

In addition to learning about new cultures, Rutherford has picked up a few life lessons as well.

"Nothing goes as planned," he joked. "My original plan route was completely different to the plan...to the route I’ve actually flown."

Once he lands back in Bulgaria, Rutherford said he doesn’t know how he will top this experience, but he has to get back to academics. 

"I definitely got to catch up with school after this," he said. 

Meanwhile, his future career plans are up in the air. 

"Not entirely sure. I just know it will involve flying," he said. 

This story was reported from Los Angeles.