GIRLS at a Winchester school have been taking inspiration from a former student who is attempting to become the youngest woman to fly solo around the world.

St Swithun’s pupils have been keenly following the progress of Zara Rutherford with 51 girls aged between 11 and 18 years taking flying lessons as part of the school’s co-curricular programme.

When Zara took off from Kortrijk in Belgium in her Shark high-performance ultralight aircraft in August, her world record-breaking trip was estimated to take approximately three months.

Despite challenging weather including snow showers, low clouds and temperatures down to -24 degrees causing lengthy delays, Zara is half-way through her journey. She is now estimated to finish back in Belgium on December 25.

Throughout November, the St Swithun’s pupils are taking to the controls of a two-seater microlight aircraft at Popham airfield and seeing Hampshire from a new perspective.

Having overcome their nerves and embraced the challenge, the first group came back from their lesson exhilarated. Headmistress Jane Gandee said: “We are delighted that so many of our students have been inspired to take up the flying lessons through our co-curricular programme. Zara is a courageous young woman who is following her dream and encouraging other girls to pursue theirs.

“She embodies everything that St Swithun’s stands for and we are so proud of what she has already achieved.”

Zara is weather-bound in Ayan, Russia where she has been stuck since November 9because of the hazardous weather.

On her Facebook page, FlyZolo, she posted on November 21: “Still stuck in Ayan, Russia. Hoping to get out on Monday before a snowstorm hits on Tuesday/Wednesday.

“I’ve been having loads of fun walking around the town and meeting new people. Getting slightly tired of the snow and ice though.”

In October, Zara was stuck in Nome, Alaska for a month because of visa problems and bad weather.

The next leg will see Zara fly south into Asia to South Korea, Taiwan, Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, Thailand and Myanmar before continuing west to India.

Zara has both British and Belgian nationality and is following in the footsteps of her parents, who are both pilots.

The solo trip is her gap year project before she goes to university, where she plans to study computer science or computer engineering, with the long-term ambition of becoming an astronaut.

The current female record holder is American Shaesta Waiz, who was 30 at the time of her circumnavigation in 2017, while the youngest male record-holder was 18-years-old.