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Youngest pilot to attempt solo around the world flight lands in Unalaska

Mack Rutherford in Unalaska.
Eldred Paradeza
Mack Rutherford in Unalaska.

Mack Rutherford is on a quest to be the youngest person ever to fly solo around the world. The 17-year-old landed Monday in Unalaska in his Shark ultralight plane.

It’s been months and thousands of miles since he started his journey. He even celebrated a birthday along the way. He left Bulgaria in late March at age 16 and made his way across Africa and Asia. Over the past few days he’s flown up the Aleutian chain, from Attu to Shemya to Adak.

“You see the world from a completely different perspective,” said Rutherford. “From the air you can really see the landscape in a way that you wouldn't be able to on the ground.”

Rutherford is Belgian and British and comes from a family of aviators. He says his sister was his inspiration. She completed her own around-the world-flight earlier this year at age 19.

Following in her footsteps, Rutherford got his pilot’s license at age 15, setting the record for youngest pilot in the world. He has a lot of flight experience for someone his age, but he says there’s been a lot to learn on this trip.

“[Flying] is completely different in many parts of the world,” he said. “In Africa, I had quite a few problems with visibility, or mountains, things like that. When I got to India it was monsoon season so [there were] big storms. It's quite interesting how all these different places have different challenges.”

The challenge near Unalaska? Flying over the mountains and then dropping down to sea level. Rutherford had to make a second attempt at landing.

To get over the mountains I was at 7,500 feet, and then suddenly I had to descend a huge amount because this is basically at sea level. Once I tried to do my approach, I was still too high. I had to go around and try again. The second time I was able to do it,” said Rutherford.

Rutherford fueled up and stayed overnight in Unalaska before flying to Anchorage. From there he’ll fly to Ketchikan and then down the west coast to Mexico. He expects to complete his journey in Bulgaria in late August.

Laurelin Kruse is a writer and radio producer from rural Colorado. She has a BA in American Studies from Yale, and she learned radio at the Transom Story Workshop in Massachusetts, where she reported stories for the local public radio station. Kruse is excited to spend the summer roaming the tundra and doing stories for the Unalaska community.
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