At 30 years old, Shaesta Waiz just became the youngest woman to complete a solo trip around the world in a single engine aircraft. Waiz, the founder of non-profit organization Dreams Soar, departed Daytona Beach International Airport on May 13 and arrived back at the airport on October 4. Visiting 22 countries, Waiz flew 24,800 nm and accumulated 176 flight hours. She also set a flight record from Honolulu, Hawaii, to Oakland, California. This trip is a part of the pilot’s life-long passion to promote science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) and aviation among the next generation of professionals.
Waiz was born in a refugee camp in Afghanistan and traveled to Richmond, California, with her parents and five sisters in 1987 to evade the Soviet-Afghan war. While studying at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in 2011, Waiz founded the Women’s Ambassadors Program as a mentor program to increase female enrollment. She then went on to start Dreams Soar, an organization that promotes STEM and aviation careers.
Before taking off on her record-breaking trip, Waiz completed a lot of research. Besides keeping multiple book filled with notes, she looked to her mentor, Barrington Irving, for guidance. Irving held the world record of being the youngest man to fly solo around the world at 23 years old in 2007.
She also completed a seven-day FlightSafety Bonanza initial training course. Waiz chose to fly the A36 Bonanza because she wrote her graduate capstone project about how single-engine aircraft—especially the A36—are one of the best aircraft for circumnavigating the world.
Unfortunately, Waiz came across four major weather delays and a technical issue while crossing the Atlantic. Waiz told AIN that while taking off from Halifax, Canada, she entered the oceanic airspace and switched from very high frequency radio communications to high frequency only for an antenna on her plane to rip off and hit the fuselage.
“When I entered the oceanic airspace, I looked out of my window and saw this antenna that didn’t look very stable to begin with,” Waiz told AIN. “I didn’t have a good feeling and within seconds it sheared off. My heart sunk when I heard that big thunk of the antenna hitting the aircraft. I was so close to the water that I looked down to see waves crashing against one another. My mind went numb and I had to forgot all of my emotions to just fly the plane to safety.”
She navigated to Saint-Pierre Airport and had a mechanic take out the antenna before moving to St. Johns for repairs.
Waiz told AIN that one of her most memorable moments came from when she visited an orphanage near Athens, Greece. While speaking to a group of children aged seven to 17, she noticed a distressed nine-year-old girl who disconnected from the group. The girl, who was a refugee from Afghanistan, had been sent to Greece by her mother for a better life, but this had never been explained to her. Waiz was able to speak to the child in their shared native tongue to explain the situation she was in and connect to her.
By the end of her trip, Waiz was able to speak to 3,000 children and young adults about pursuing careers in STEM and aviation. During her time in Canada, she worked with the International Civil Aviation Organization to visit three different schools in one day. Each country she visited showed their support for her trip with welcome ceremonies featuring diplomats and citizens greeting her at the airport when she landed. During these speaking engagements, Waiz focused on connecting with young women of color.
“Visbility is so important. When I got into aviation, I asked myself whether women of diverse backgrounds like myself could be successful in this field. These events [on the trip] allowed young girls to see that someone with a background similar to theirs can be successful and will not be overlooked or undermined. I went to all these countries and found these incredible Amelia Earhart-type women who we never really hear about. Promoting them and their stories, challenges and successes is paramount.”
Waiz found this part of the trip so impactful that she’s planning on continuing these events in countries she was not able to visit on her trip. She told AIN that she would like to visit more countries in South America, Asia, the Middle East and Africa to continue spreading the word about STEM and aviation. Looking forward, she is also working on Dreams Soar’s scholarship fund. Waiz sees these scholarships as the next step to enable children to pursue their careers.