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Not to be outdone

Dad Sam Rutherford and mom Beatrice De Smet are clearly two of the world’s coolest parents. While other teenagers beg to take the family car to a party, Sam and Bea were planning fuel stops, securing overflight permissions, and arranging hotels. Sam Rutherford is a former army helicopter pilot who now runs an aviation services company while Bea is a private pilot and former attorney. Despite their aviation experience, the decision to let their kids go on such an adventure didn’t come easy. At least for one of them.

“Sam was ready pretty much immediately. For both, I had a big reluctance,” said Bea. Zara had experience with big water crossings with Sam, and both kids had extensive experience with longer cross-country trips, having flown to and from Britain and Belgium for school on a regular basis. “I realized early on that Zara was a legal adult and I may as well be supportive instead of an obstacle,” she said.

Zara experienced significant challenges on her journey, most related to paperwork problems and waiting out weather. And it was in the middle of those stressful days that Mack decided he wanted to also make the trip. “I was very strict and said there was no way I was going to let him go,” Bea said. But as Zara’s trip unfolded, Bea saw Mack’s determination, and she softened somewhat. “I said we could talk when Zara, if Zara, was back.” Then Mack threw a Hail Mary and wrote his mom an impassioned letter describing why he wanted to do the trip, and explaining why it was the perfect time. “I cried over that letter,” she said. “I realized that it was his dream, and I would be taking away his dream. It was extremely difficult for me as a mother to say yes.”

Decision made, Sam and Bea became integral parts of the team that helped plan the flights, find sponsors, and then track Zara and Mack along the way. Both trips were not without difficulty. Zara had paperwork problems in Russia, while Mack spent six weeks each in Crete and Dubai because of permit issues. “You just have to keep moving forward,” Mack said. “There were times it was difficult to see how I was going to progress, but I just had to move forward.”

Then there was the issue of weather. The Shark UL Zara and Mack flew is day VFR only with a Rotax 912 ULS engine and a maximum takeoff weight of 1,320 pounds. It’s a far cry from twin turboprops or other high-performance airplanes often used to fly around the world. Using a VFR airplane wasn’t by choice, Sam said. Neither Zara nor Mack has an instrument rating. “It created a different framework we had to work within. It definitely made it more difficult.”

As parents those difficulties were constant reminders of the risks the kids faced. Sam was both proud dad and mission specialist, tracking the kids and communicating with them through all the flights, even those that fell in the middle of the night. “I had jet lag without going anywhere,” he said. For Bea the experience was different. Her background as a lawyer was helpful in the permitting processes, but she realized live flight following wasn’t for her when she saw Zara divert on one of her big water crossings.

There were fun moments as well. They joined Zara in Mexico and Mack in Dubai. It made their lives easier, and they were able to help while in closer time zones.

And now that the trips are done, Zara and Mack will complete their education as world record-holders. Zara is studying at Stanford University and Mack is finishing his A-levels in Britain. They’ll both continue flying, and Sam and Bea will catch up on some much-needed sleep.

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