Shark Says No Thanks To Pushing A Youth Record


Companies plying the aviation trade—airframers, avionics manufacturers, engine builders, pilot emporiums, headset sellers, fuel companies—are often approached to sponsor some flight or promotional event or another. “It’s for the good of the industry,” goes the reasoning.  

By necessity, they turn down a lot of these, sometimes for reasons related to safety or just the utter seaminess of some proposals. Let it never be said that airplane and dingbat don’t occupy the same space from time to time. You never hear about the turn downs so it was unusual to hear that Slovakian airframer Shark Aero has pointedly said it’s not onboard with yet another round the world flight by yet another youngest pilot.

Other than a blog I wrote last August, we don’t cover these flights, for reasons I’ll reiterate a few lines down. Just to refresh, the last attempt—successful—was a round-the-world flight by 19-year-old Zora Rutherford, who completed the flight in a Shark last fall and winter, finishing the trip in five months in January. A European site breathlessly reported she was “paving the way for girls in STEM by setting the record for the youngest woman to fly solo around the world.” Not to be left behind, her 16-year-old brother, Mack, is about to set off on his own Guinness record attempt in another Shark aircraft.

While Shark did participate in Zara’s flight with support and consulting, it put a prominent notice on its website explaining why it’s not joining the younger brother’s efforts. “Shark Aero does not join the MackSolo project,” the notice says. It then notes that the war in Ukraine is a factor and “as a matter of principle, we refuse to be part of any project which involves Russia or entry into Russian airspace.” Also, said the notice, “we do not feel comfortable pushing the age limit to the lowest possible point for journeys where a certain level of risk cannot be avoided.”

“From the beginning, I don’t like the idea to send a 16-year-old boy for a trip like this,” Shark Aero CEO Vladimir Pekar told me in an email. “Anyway, we accepted to give training to Mack, to know him better. Mack today has better pilot skills and maintenance training than Zara at departure. He is more familiar with Shark. Anyway, he is a kid. Just confirmed our concerns,” he added.

Further, he said “Russia is absolutely not acceptable for us.” Pekar says the Shark Mack Rutherford will use doesn’t have the range to avoid Russian territory and might require long overwater legs for which the airplane isn’t suited or equipped. Pekar said Shark offered modifications, but heard nothing, leading him to believe the family is simply pushing for the Guinness book.

“This is not our game,” he said.

You surely know this, but it’s worth mentioning that Eastern Europe is intensely wary of Russian intentions. Slovakia borders on Ukraine and people in the region have fresh memories of the 1968 Prague Spring when Russian tanks rolled in to put down a liberalization movement. They see history repeating and want nothing to do with it. For us, this is just images on cable news; for them, it’s visceral history. And as refugees flood into Slovakia from Ukraine, history is repeating.

I will reiterate my objection to these youngest-person records. They achieve nothing; they prove nothing while placing a young, inexperienced pilot at considerable risk just for social media exposure and a mention in Guinness, a bar book that has itself had to push back on some of the galactically stupid stunts people do in quest of a two-line record and a moment of fame. In short, these are more for the adults than the kids and the adults ought to know better.

The glib, pro forma excuse to lend some high-mindedness to these records is that they “promote aviation” and “inspire young people” to become pilots. In Zara Rutherford’s case, the fig leaf was promoting STEM. If there were a way to measure the results of this promotion, I suspect you would, to recall Cactus Jack Garner’s description of the vice presidency, find that they don’t amount to a bucket of warm … well, you know the rest.

In young Mack’s favor is that he has supposedly completed Atlantic crossings with his father, Sam, a ferry pilot, who is doing the planning. So he’s clearly more experienced than the average just-solo’d 16-year-old pilot. His sister Zara completed her flight largely without incident, at least that we know of. She was 19 at the time of the flight, but without an instrument rating and flying a non-instrument-capable airplane. At the time of her departure, that was my expressed worry. That applies here, too. I wish him the best, but wish he wasn’t doing this for the reason he’s doing it.

Three months ago, I wrote a blog about the four friends and acquaintances killed in aviation crashes last year—the worst in my long association with this industry. I’ll admit that this has colored my enthusiasm for risky things done in the interests of teasing people into aviation. Rather than pushing back when we should, we wave the promotional flag in the name of the greater good. Pardon me, but I’m just not in the mood. I don’t think Vlado Pekar is, either.  

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  1. Thanks Paul. Great column. Sometimes I wonder if one consequence of going after any “World’s Youngest To…” records is to promote the notion that attention-seeking for its own sake is somehow a positive trait. These kids don’t have the resources to plan nor excecute the attempts on their own and the adults involved often don’t seem to have a clear picture of the risks they are setting up for their own children.

  2. Great article, as usual.
    It is true that risk taking has made many of the important advances in human endeavors. But there is no reason to push such activities onto the youngest possible participants. Especially when its principal effect serves only to confer bragging rights.

  3. Jonathan, ” …serves only to confer bragging rights.”
    I’m 75. had my ticket for 42 years, and unfortunately I know that sometimes “bragging rights” are all you have left.

  4. George Neal, the famous DeHavilland test pilot, got his pilots license in 1936. He was still flying his beloved Chipmunk solo in the summer of 2015 and exercised the privileges of his license for almost 80 years.

    That is the record I want to beat !

    Only 36 more flying years to go……

  5. Paul: Well said, and I am glad that AvWeb adheres to the policy. Does the Child Pilot Safety Act (from Jessica Dubroff’s crash) apply here? The pilot does not have at least a private pilot certificate since he is not 17. What am I missing? Best, Vince Massimini, Kentmorr Airpark MD (3W3)

  6. Having flown around the world myself (Mooney M20K, following Amelia Earhart’s route in 2017) I have received queries from several young people wanting to set “youngest” circumnavigation records. I detail the issues I had with weather, getting fuel, systems failures, and the like, which challenged my almost 50 years of flight, maintenance, and avionics experience. (You name it, I experienced it.) I also point out that success and doing this well today, while still a challenge regardless of your age (I was 63), is not the same level of accomplishment that it was 80 and 90 years ago. I counsel them to spend the time to gain experience to reduce the risk and increase the probability of a successful circumnavigation, but absolutely don’t do it to set a “youngest” record. It’s not worth your life.

  7. Representing a GA airframer from eastern Europe, I can strongly relate. Turned down some Jackass style record proposals before. Avoiding Russia associations too.

  8. If this company wants to sponsor me, I will consider the offer and terms. Even if it meant to fly their aircraft. )

  9. Every manufacturer or other potential sponsor of such stunts should memorize this article and send copies to the parents and anyone else trying to promote them.

    If only it were possible to inject truth serum into some past record holders and find out about the negative aspects of these stunts instead of just the “I made it” statements when (if) they got home.

    The article can also apply to youngest-solo-sail-around-the-world stunts, which are even dumber than the flights.

  10. “…risky things done in the interests of teasing people into aviation.”

    Enlightening comment in an excellent synopsis of the new age of soliciting GA aviation manufacturers for subsidies masquerading as motivating young people into aviation. It’s all about sponsorship to pay someone’s aviation bills. Modern day pandering for YouTube/FB/Twitter viral fame.

    Commercial manufactures greenwash for publicity. Ever younger airplane drivers ratchet up the stakes proposing “risky things” for a sponsorship decal, on a sponsored airplane with their version of “STEM washing”…STEM being used similarly as “greenwashing”. Why not? It works for commercial interests. Might as well see who will sponsor the next self-styled record breaking stunt that nobody pays attention to unless someone gets killed. No one dies, no one notices.

    Few really care who the youngest aerial globe trotter is. It won’t be long before a toddler in diapers will be at the controls of an 1,000 gallon avgas laden, overloaded Bonanza taking off from Cape Canaveral’s gazillion foot runway circling the globe at the equator ( including a somewhat high visibility fuel stop in Moscow) with a sponsorship from an autopilot manufacturer using software from a Tesla electric car for autonomous flight combine to create the next gee wiz aviation innovation called AutoTakeOffAutoFlightAutoland …aka…
    ATOAFAL (pronounced oughtta fail).

    That should be enough of a risky tease to get a newborn into the air solo, drinking Blue Bull energy drinks via BPS free bottles, eating pre-digested MRE’s with a well positioned bib, wearing the latest self sealing diapers, flying a NORDO equipped P-51 converted to use sustainable fuel such as the wind and lit for night flight by batteries charged by solar panels on top of the canopy. All of this on someone else’s dime.

    • Cheeses priced, cynicism can get that dark? Cute analogy with the baby, but using AvWeb’s dime to vent such sarcastic distaste and haughtiness by using your interlaced pet peeves doesn’t leave much room for I assume your intended humor.

      People will always try to make records, break records, get advantage, give advantage, or establish bragging rights. Live and let live. Unless of course, bragging rights are at issue…

  11. Dave,
    It’s called hyperbole. My hyperbole will not stop anyone from living, will not stop record breaking attempts, nor stop people looking for sponsorship for their personal aviation endeavors.

    My opinion believing a large percentage of those seeking manufacturer’s financial support for their record breaking attempts in the name of inspiration, as some sort of role model, trying to noble up what is essentially record breaking for purely one’s name in a record book under the name of STEM…is not going to make dent in the numbers of those who crave their 15 minutes of social media fame and a sentence in the Guinness Book of Records.

    Unfortunately, history has its own books of record of those who lost their lives in rescue attempts of those who did not achieve their record breaking goals making the attempt far from of individual consequences transferring to others tragedy and pain in the attempt to save these STEM warriors from their own poor choices.

    Companies can be ruined by supporting these record breaking attempts forcing employees or shareholders to share the pain of failure who had no choice in the decision for sponsorship.

    Nothing of engineering importance, leading edge technology breakthroughs that Cessna, GA, or humanity will benefit from with two RedBull pilots leaving their respective 182’s going straight down and attempting to crawl back in the others airplane other than for RedBull’s bottom line if they succeed, a viral video for the pilots, and their name in Guinness. If they don’t it will continue the stereotype that personal flying is for the wealthy whose money surpasses common sense with an insatiable desire to show off. And Avweb, you, and me get to explain another stupid airplane trick to an aviation clueless world.

    Glad you like the baby pilot hyperbole. Today’s hyperbole tomorrows record attempt in the name of STEM and personal inspiration. That’s their story and they are sticking to it.