MIT Student May Be the Youngest Person to Fly Solo Around the World

He’s been to Rome, Athens, and Cairo and he just landed back in the U.S. after aiming to set a new World Record.

UPDATE:

Although officials from the Guinness Book of World Records still need to look over everything before crowning Matt Guthmiller as the youngest person to fly solo around the globe, a spokesperson representing the student’s trip confirmed to Boston that the MIT sophomore beat the current record.

“Matt did beat the record, but Guinness hasn’t made it official. But as far as we know, he did break the record. He more than made it. We are stressing that Guinness still does need to verify it,” said Ariane Doud, who is handling press inquiries for Guthmiller while he recovers from his trip. “He’s filing all of the evidence soon. But he landed last night after a 16-hour flight, so right now he’s sleeping.”

Doud said Guthmiller, who set out on his 29,000-mile journey 44 days ago, greeted the media last night in California, after touching down from a 16-hour flight.

While in the middle of his trip last month, Guthmiller told Boston that he was using the epic trip as an opportunity to raise money for Code.org, a non-profit that brings computer science classes to more schools, while trying to inspire people to go after big goals and achieve them. “He’s very happy to have raised awareness and he is thrilled to be home,” said Doud, adding that once Guthmiller gets some rest he will update people about his journey.

Below is an interview with the young pilot from June, when he was in Egypt.

EARLIER:

In May, Matt Guthmiller, an incoming sophomore at MIT, took off on a trip with the goal of setting the World Record as the youngest pilot to fly solo around the earth. And so far, the 19-year-old student and entrepreneur is on track to steal the title, with just a few more weeks left until his trip comes to an end.

On July 1, Guthmiller is expected to complete his journey and land back in the United States, capping off an achievement that has been called an “impressive” triumph for someone his age. He’s been tracking his adventures and keeping followers updated as he bounces between cities, taking in the sites in places like Cairo, Rome, and Athens.

While his one-month trip is certainly something to be proud of—especially if he finishes on time and sets a new record—for Guthmiller it’s not just about getting a chance to see the world. The Cambridge student told Boston he’s using this opportunity to benefit Code.org, a non-profit dedicated to bringing computer science classes to more schools, while at the same time getting people amped up to attempt feats of a similar magnitude.

“Hopefully the people following my trip will not only be motivated to sponsor me and thus help Code.org with the fantastic work they’re doing, but will also be inspired to try great things of their own,” he said.

We caught up with Guthmiller in between stops on his flight path to see how his trip has been going. Despite the fact that he’s spending so much time alone, he said he’s enjoying the freedom.

So how far along are you on your trip?

I touched down in Cairo, Egypt today. I’ll be here for a couple of days. Need to move around to a few different airports in the area before I continue on to Abu Dhabi.

Not a bad journey. What have you been up to when you make these pit stops?

It has totally depended on where I [am]. In San Diego, I was fully wrapped up in getting the plane and everything ready for departure. In South Dakota, I visited with family and friends while I had the chance. New York City, Rome, and Athens obviously there were a few places that I had always wanted to see, and really I would have kicked myself if I hadn’t at least checked them out while I was there, so I went and had a look at the Statue of Liberty, the Coliseum and the Acropolis, and I was able to enjoy myself with some sightseeing in London as well. But to be honest, a lot of my time has been taken up with making sure all the operational details are in order. This isn’t your typical vacation. A lot of work goes into it every day.

How has it been traveling solo? Do you have anything that you do to pass the time while you’re in the air?

What I enjoy most about flying is the freedom, the independence, so it’s fitting that I’m doing this on my own. It’s peaceful. However, one thing most people don’t realize about flying is that it isn’t like getting on the highway and putting the car on cruise control. I have to be monitoring things pretty much all the time. I do a run-through of the instrumentation to check that everything is working properly and write it down every 10 minutes. I’m on the radio with air traffic controllers. I do watch movies kind-of out of the corner of my eye but, honestly, I spend a lot of time just looking out the window. How could I not? I’m flying around the world. I’ve never seen any of this before and might never see at least some of it again.

What has been the most memorable thing you have seen so far?

London and Rome were great, but Athens was absolutely incredible. It was definitely tough to leave there. I could see the Acropolis from my hotel. Unbelievable. In terms of specific moments—coming in to the Azores was interesting. You sort of aim for a very small dot in the middle of a very large ocean. Then there’s obviously the incredible things I saw in Athens and Rome. I’m sure I’ll see more in Egypt, Abu Dhabi, and India. I’m going to have a lot of stories and I’ve made a lot of new friends.

With all these small stops, are you on track to set the record, would you say?

I knew that there would be unforeseen complications on this trip, so I intentionally built plenty of wiggle room into the itinerary. It took me a little longer to get out of San Diego than I initially intended, but I knew things like that were bound to happen so I wasn’t overly concerned. As of now, I am on schedule and fully expect to break the record with time to spare.

Well that’s good news. But the bad news is your trip will be done. Are you sad to see it come to an end?

Well, not really, because I’m not flying around the world just for the sake of it. I’m doing this to benefit Code.org and to hopefully inspire other people to attempt feats of similar magnitude. I’m excited to get back to San Diego and complete my mission. Hopefully the people following my trip will not only be motivated to sponsor me and thus help Code.org with the fantastic work they’re doing, but will also be inspired to try great things of their own. Sad? No. Nostalgic? Maybe a little. Excited? Definitely. I’ve been working on this mission for a long time and a lot of hard work has gone into it. I’m going to be really happy when it’s finally “mission accomplished.”

Once that’s accomplished, and you get back to MIT, what’s the first thing you will tell classmates about your experience?

I’m most looking forward to telling them about the impact I was able to have. If I’m able to help people and inspire others, that is what I’ll be most proud of. I’m making a stop in Seattle to visit Code.org [headquarters] when I return to the West Coast, and I fully expect that to be an incredibly rewarding experience. So, it’ll be a little less “what I did” and more “why I did it.”

Once you set the record, what happens then?

I’ll look for my next challenge. I’m doing this to inspire others, but I’ve definitely inspired myself. If I can do this what can’t I do? What limits are left?

  • Eddie Gold

    We at General Aviation Support Egypt have just hosted Matt in Cairo. After a very exhausting 4 days of sightseeing and some aircraft maintenance, we can say that we were truly inspired by this young man. He seemed to enjoy every minute of the Cairo experience and was even able to give a talk to a group of Egyptian pilots who were suitably impressed by Matt and his dream. Inspiring young people around the world to go that extra mile is a great goal and will be appreciated by all the people he meets in far flung places. Thank you Matt, it was a great honour to have met you and we know we can now call you a great friend indeed.

  • independentincc

    Yea, what a mission accomplished, ace. Almost as a much of an accomplishment as this 19 year-old WWII ace http://www.acc.af.mil/news/story.asp?id=123358938 . But he didn’t wear your pretentious and asinine epaulets so I guess you have one up on the real ace, momma’s boy!

    • ckcnc

      In much of the world outside the US, private pilots are pretty rare and often viewed very suspiciously. It’s common advice for pilots in far corners of the world to dress like commercial pilots to avoid getting hassled by airport and customs authorities.