19-year-old becomes youngest pilot to fly around world

(CBS NEWS) - At a time when most teens are starting to drive, Matt Guthmiller learned to fly.

The 19-year-old recently became the youngest pilot ever to circumnavigate the globe, and he did it alone, reports CBS News correspondent Carter Evans.

The South Dakota teenager flew 30,000 miles, making 23 stops in 15 countries on five continents. Along the way, Guthmiller was treated like a rock star for his record-breaking flight. He also heard what the critics had to say.

"'It's too risky' or 'This is some spoiled, rich brat going out and having a good time,'" Guthmiller said.

He said he didn't have much to say to his critics.

"It was certainly a lot of fun and I had a good time, but it was a lot of work and I hope that what I did inspires other people to go out and do big things," Guthmiller said.

He was inspired to pilot a plane at an early age, first asking his parents to eat at airport cafes. Later he pushed for flying lessons.

"They agreed to let me do this little $20, 20-minute intro flight, but I think they probably thought that was just going to be the end it," Guthmiller said.

It wasn't. He soon made a deal to get more time in the cockpit.

"Things like a little arrangement where I'd share a car with my dad throughout high school instead of having my own car. In exchange, I got to fly planes," he said.

By the age of 17, he had his pilot's license and two years later leased a single-engine Beechcraft for his solo flight around the world. The MIT student performed plane maintenance and his own fuel calculations. Long hours in the air meant some additional fuel for him as well.

"Basically, a lot of caffeine and Oreos," Guthmiller said.

He said he went through a few rows of Oreos during one of the long legs of his flight.

Flying into the clouds was both beautiful and dangerous. Air traffic controllers in other countries did not have the weather radar to help him navigate around thunderstorms.

"I have no idea which clouds were just a little bit higher than where I'm at and which ones go up to 45,000 feet and will break the plane apart," Guthmiller said.

He was flying a plane that was not pressurized and didn't have oxygen, so he couldn't fly above the clouds.

"And with a bunch of fuel it's also hard to get up," Guthmiller said.

One day after our interview, another young pilot, 17-year-old Haris Suleman, died after crashing his plane on what Guthmiller called the most difficult leg of his own journey -- American Samoa to Hawaii. Guthmiller flew from the same airstrip as Suleman and said the take-off is technically challenging because of the heavy fuel load needed for the 16-hour stretch.

In spite of the risks and even a fear of heights, Guthmiller succeeded in breaking the record and raising money for computer science education through Code.org. He is a coder himself, who started his own tech company at the age of 12. His goals are more than sky high.

"I think it would be really cool to start the next Apple, but we'll see how that goes," Guthmiller said.

He said he is aiming high.

"Shoot for the stars, you get somewhere good," he said.


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