A series of stopovers with the Virgin Family

Zara Rutherford visits the Virgin Orbit test site
Virgin Orbit
Holly Branson
Holly Branson's writing
Published on 29 September 2021

As a proud sponsor, we’ve been following Zara Rutherford’s solo flight around the world very closely at Virgin. In case you’ve missed it, Zara is a 19-year-old aviator who is flying solo around the globe and is close to achieving the World Record as the youngest woman ever to complete this incredible challenge.

Zara is using her journey across five continents and 52 countries to raise awareness about the gender gap in aviation, and to inspire more girls to pursue careers in STEM. I was amazed by Zara’s commitment to highlighting the wonderful career opportunities open to young women when they study STEM subjects and I was delighted to help sponsor Zara's journey.

Zara Rutherford sits inside her shark plane
Zara Rutherford

Zara was a quarter-way through her trip when she stopped over in the BVI and spent a day with Dad on Necker. As Dad waved good-bye on the sand, she was jetting off to Americas, where she would be visiting both New Mexico and California - the home states of Virgin Galactic, Virgin Orbit and Virgin Hyperloop. We mentioned to the teams that Zara would love to meet them all, but I was blown away by the effort everyone made to welcome Zara at their spaceports, test sites, hangars and homes.

With just a week’s notice, a group of brilliant people across Virgin Galactic, Virgin Orbit and Virgin Hyperloop managed to sort security clearances, air passes and landing logistics and to arrange spaceport tours, rocket engine test site visits, spaceship simulator experiences, family meals and hangar hangouts with our wonderful astronauts, pilots, engineers and technicians. I’m so proud of the way our teams came together to make Zara feel at home. I’d like to send a particularly big shout-out to Virgin Galactic's Jason Lazich and his wonderful family who welcomed Zara into their home for two nights. This is the #VirginFmily at it’s very best!

Zara’s first Virgin Family meeting was with the Virgin Galactic team at Spaceport America in New Mexico. One of our brilliant pilots, Michael Masucci, showed Zara around Virgin Galactic’s hangar and spaceship simulator. Zara also met some of the incredible women in the team including Emilie Woog (Avionics and Electric Operations Engineer), Katie Westley (Galactic Unite Associate Manager) and Diana Crump (Spaceline Safety Lead). Zara also joined a gathering hosted by the Women in Aviation International (WAI) Land of Enchantment Chapter - a brilliant non-profit encouraging the advancement of girls and women in aerospace careers. It’s incredibly inspiring to see so many brilliant women working together to tackle the industry’s gender gap.

Virgin Galactic pilot Michael Masucci shows Zara Rutherford around Spaceport America
Virgin Galactic

Next on the itinerary was a lunch in Los Angeles with Virgin Hyperloop to meet some of the engineers and technicians who are designing the future of transport. This included Helen Durden, who leads the System Loads and Analysis Team and has been at Virgin Hyperloop for over six years, and several members of Virgin Hyperloop’s 'Ladies Who Loop' employee network!

Virgin Hyperloop team greeting Zara Rutherford at an airport in Los Angeles
Virgin Hyperloop

Zara’s final Virgin Family stopover was in Mojave, California where she was welcomed to Virgin Orbit’s rocket engine test site by Will Pomerantz, the company’s Vice President of Special Projects and its very first employee! A bunch of brilliant people gave Zara a tour of the test site, and a front-row seat at the test director’s station in-between two hotfire tests of Virgin Orbit’s liquid-fuelled rocket engines. Not a bad day at the office! 

Zara Rutherford visiting Virgin Orbit's test site in Mojave, California
Virgin Orbit

Thank you so much to every single person at Virgin Galactic, Virgin Orbit, Virgin Hyperloop and beyond who went over and above to make Zara’s time in the US as memorable as possible. It’s times like this where the Virgin spirit shines through, and I’m reminded that we really do have the best people in the world working for us.  

You can follow the rest of Zara’s journey and learn more about her mission to get more girls into STEM right here.