Supporting Zara Rutherford’s solo flight around the world

Zara Rutherford looks outside the window of her shark plane
Zara Rutherford
Holly Branson
Holly Branson's writing
Published on 12 August 2021

Last week I woke up to so many messages from colleagues about a young aviator called Zara Rutherford who is embarking on an incredible world record breaking endeavour. The messages about Zara’s challenge and how she is empowering young women to pursue STEM education was so enthusiastic that I was excited before I had even read a word about her!

My colleagues were right. Zara is remarkable. Next week, she will set off to fly solo around the world, in an incredible attempt to become the youngest woman in the world (by quite a few years) to ever do so, and the youngest person to do it in a microlight aircraft. Zara is just 19.

Zara Rutherford sits inside her shark plane
Zara Rutherford

The trip will take two to three months, starting in late August and ending in October. Reading about Zara’s incredible record-breaking attempt and how she was self-funding the flight to turn her dream into reality filled me with inspiration. She even sold beloved first car - a 2009 Nissan Qashqai - to make it happen. After being blown away by Zara's dedication, drive and passion, I was delighted to call her and let her know that Virgin would sponsor her awe-inspiring endeavour.

When I spoke to Zara, it became clear how passionate she was about empowering young women to follow their dreams. She wants to highlight how studying STEM opens the most incredible careers for women and show there is no reason that women cannot be the most innovative and successful aviators, scientists and engineers of the future. As Zara said:

“Through my round the world trip, I’m hoping to encourage other girls to start flying too or enter STEM related careers. Only 5% of commercial pilots and just 15% of computer scientists are women. That’s an extremely low number considering these are amazing careers with wonderful opportunities.”

I couldn’t agree more!

Holly Branson dressed up as a pilot as a young girl
Image from the Branson Family

Having receiving incredible results on her A level exams in mathematics, further mathematics, economics, and physics, Zara hopes to go to university and study computer science or computer engineering. She lives and breathes aviation and understands the opportunities that come from making STEM education more accessible to young people. Zara’s ultimate dream is to become an astronaut one day and I have no doubt in my mind that Zara will turn that dream into reality! As I spoke to this remarkable young woman, I was blown away by her bravery, passion, drive and determination to get this important message out to the biggest audience that she can as she flies around the world. As a #VirginFamily, we’ll help her do that in every way we can! Zara is also supporting two wonderful charities alongside her flight - Girls Who Code and Dreams Soar. Please follow and support these charities as they are simply amazing. I’ll be telling you more about them in the coming weeks.

Zara Rutherford at 8-years-old flying over Mozambique
Sam Rutherford

We’re so delighted to be sponsoring Zara and her Fly Zolo record-breaking challenge. I’m hoping to be in regular contact with Zara as she circumnavigates the globe, so I'll keep you updated on her progress. Join me in supporting Zara’s journey by following her adventure and spreading her important message about empowering young women to follow their dreams far and wide. #FlyZolo