Matt Guthmiller has wanted to fly for as long as he can remember. As a child, he loved playing flight simulator games and hanging out at the airport, where he'd watch planes take off and land. One of his earliest memories is of the cake served on his second birthday, which was decorated with a miniature plane.
Now, as the 19-year-old wraps up his freshman year at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology with more than 500 flying hours under his belt, Guthmiller is about to take off on a more than 26,000-mile journey to become the youngest person to circumnavigate the globe on a solo flight.
"The biggest thing that I kind of want to accomplish with this whole thing is just to go out and inspire other people to go shoot for really big things, like flying around the world,” a calm and collected Guthmiller told NBC News from Las Vegas on Wednesday, a day before he hoped to kick off his five-week-or-so trip around the world.
Guthmiller said he is neither scared or nervous — and that if his parents have any qualms about allowing their teenage son to go on this adventure, they aren't really showing it.
"They're all pretty excited, very supportive," he said.
Unlike Jules Verne's circumnavigating hero Phileas Fogg, Guthmiller will travel without a trusty companion. But as an only child, he said he's not anxious about the silence that sets in when flying above the Pacific Ocean for 14 hours at 11,000 feet.
The course he has charted has him landing in cities he has always wanted to visit, like Rome, Athens and Cairo. Guthmiller said he is looking forward to exploring the various stops along his itinerary, but what he is most excited about is "finishing the whole thing and getting back here," to his hometown of Aberdeen, South Dakota.
The aircraft Guthmiller hopes will land him in the book of Guinness World Records is a leased 1981 Beechcraft A36 Bonanza. To extend the plane's average range of 1,100 nautical miles, four of the craft’s six seats were removed to accommodate a fuel tank. The small plane flies on so-called Avgas, a costly type of gasoline, and not the more ubiquitous jet fuel.
Guthmiller has to complete his journey by July 24 to beat the record currently held by Australian Ryan Campbell, but he said he plans to wrap his trip weeks before that date.
The electrical engineering and computer science student estimated the cost of his trip at $125,000, but he hopes to raise about $250,000 for Code.org, a nonprofit that aims to introduce computer science in more schools and make it available to more women and underrepresented minorities. Guthmiller said computer science is the ideal problem-solving tool.
"We're humbled that Matt is choosing to support Code.org as he embarks on this inspiring journey,” founder and CEO Hadi Partovi said in a statement.
Guthmiller will track and blog about his trip on his website, limitless-horizons.org.