Guinness World Records has declared British-Belgian national Mack Rutherford the youngest pilot to fly solo around the world.
At age 17 years and 64 days, Rutherford landed in Sofia, Bulgaria, Wednesday after departing from that city six months ago to begin his record-setting journey.
It took Rutherford, who’s been nicknamed “Mack Solo” on social media, 142 days to pilot a single-engine Shark Aero ultralight—sponsored by ICDSoft—across four continents at a total distance of 29,225 nm.
The Shark Aero was designed under the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) ultralight parameters that allow for an unrestricted top speed and complex-aircraft elements, such as retractable gear and a controllable-pitch prop. As such, the Shark Aero is operated under the experimental exhibition class in the U.S., as it doesn’t adhere to the FAA’s stricter LSA designation.
As an EASA ultralight pilot, Rutherford limited his flights to daytime only in the aircraft which had a maximum speed of 300 km/h (162 knots). Poor weather conditions sometimes forced him to cut his flight plans short and land in unexpected places.
“It’s been absolutely incredible,” he told CNN, although he said he ran into “some difficult patches.”
“The Sahara desert was incredible. Kenya was incredible, I was able to fly over national parks and see all the animals,” Rutherford said. “That’s what makes this journey a nice thing to go through and an amazing experience.”
The previous male record holder according to Guinness—U.K. pilot Travis Ludlow—circumnavigated last year at 18 years, 150 days old.
Born in June 2005, Rutherford was actually only 16 when he first started his trek on March 23.
Guinness has now declared him:
- the youngest person to circumnavigate the world by aircraft solo (male)
- the youngest person to circumnavigate the world by microlight solo (male)
Posting frequently on Instagram, his account became a personal logbook of sorts, providing explanations of pilot-related details, such as density altitude in Dubai.
Rutherford’s older sister, Zara Rutherford, also made the history books this year, when she circumnavigated the globe in an ultralight aircraft—taking one additional day than her brother to finish the journey. “She really was an inspiration for me,” the younger Rutherford told CNN.
|Total distance:||29,225 nm|
|Total time in the air:||221 hours|
|Takeoffs / landings:||68|
|Longest flight:||10 hours|
|Maximum altitude:||12,500 feet|
Starting out in Sofia, Rutherford’s flight path took him towards the Mediterranean and then across the African Sahara, the Middle East, and Asia.
One of the most challenging parts of his trek, according to Guinness, took place in the North Pacific, after taking off from the Aleutian island of Casco Cove. During the 10-hour, open-water leg of the trip, headwinds and rain forced him to land on a desolate island called Attu, which was described in a post on his Instagram account.
“Mackinson Crusoe was now on an uninhabited island, surrounded only by boarded-up buildings, battle relics, and memorials telling of the immense amount of lost souls to the place…Although the scenery was breathtaking,” the post said.
From there, Rutherford pushed on, flying through the U.S., Canada, and Mexico, followed by his final leg in Europe.
‘Work Towards Your Dreams’
Rutherford was drawn to flying naturally, thanks to his parents, who are British and Belgian. His father works as a ferry pilot, while his mother holds a private pilot certificate, according to Guinness.
“I have known for certain I wanted to fly since I was eleven,” Rutherford told Guinness. “But no matter what background you have, I believe it is never too early to work towards your dreams and you shouldn’t limit yourself by others’ expectations.
“I’m definitely going to carry on flying,” he told CNN. “I’m not entirely sure in what place in aviation—just that I’m going to keep flying. I’m thinking something like the air force, but I’m not 100 percent sure on anything.” For now, Rutherford said he’s “just going to focus on school and try and catch up as much as I can.”