Rural Wyoming Man Has His Own Fighter Jet, Because Why Not?

Matt Guthmiller lives at the airfield in Alpine, Wyoming, where he keeps his own military jet trainer, an Eastern Bloc 1976 Aero L-39 Albatros decommissioned from the Estonian Air Force.

Mark Heinz

February 17, 20236 min read

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(Cowboy State Daily Staff)

As a teenager, Matt Guthmiller was so obsessed with aviation his parents grew a little exasperated, so they decided to indulge him a bit. 

“My parents finally paid for me to take a $20 intro flight,” Guthmiller told Cowboy State Daily. “I think they thought I was going to get this aviation thing out of my system. Now I live at an airport.”

A Military Jet In The Middle Of Nowhere

In 2014 when he was a sophomore at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Guthmiller, now 28, became the youngest person to fly around the world. He’s also founded his own aviation media company.

Most recently, he took his obsession with all things aviation nearly into the stratosphere – literally – when he and a friend bought a training jet fighter from the Estonian Air Force.   

“He didn’t have a hangar for it, so it stays here and I get to fly it,” said Guthmiller, who moved to an airfield near tiny Alpine, Wyoming, a couple years ago.

When most people are going out to warm up their cars in the morning, Guthmiller is warming up his fighter jet.

‘Like I’ve Been Doing It My Whole Life’

“I’ve been flying since I was 16,” he said. “So, it feels like I’ve been doing it my whole life.” 

He grew up in Aberdeen, South Dakota, before moving to the airport to western Wyoming, about 40 miles southwest of Jackson.

“Here, you’ve got a hangar for your airplane instead of a garage for your car,” he said. 

Along the way, he founded Matt Guthmiller Media, a production company that specializes in aviation videos. The company also produces aviation videos for film, television and flight training. 

He also has nearly 220,000 subscribers to his YouTube channel.

Eastern Bloc Surplus

Guthmiller said when his friend learned that the Estonian air force had an Aero L-39 Albatros trainer jet for sale, it was too good of a deal to pass on. 

“It came over in a shipping container and arrived at a port in Alabama in July,” he said. “We spent about nine days getting it out of the container and putting it together, and then we flew it at the air show in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, which is the biggest air show in the country.”

The Albatros is a Czechoslovakian aircraft widely used for decades as a trainer jet by the Soviet Union and Eastern Bloc countries, Guthmiller said. 

This particular jet was commissioned in 1976. That might sound old, but Guthmiller said the frames of airplanes “are basically made to last forever,” while various components are regularly replaced. 

The Albatros is a fairly popular airplane among civilian aviators, and many private owners upgrade theirs with state-of-the-art avionics. 

“This one is in really good shape” he said. “We kept this one original.”

Lofty Ambitions

Owning his own fighter training jet is the just one of the latest accomplishments Guthmiller has achieved before turning 30.

He had his first solo flight in 2011 in a two-seat 1975 Cessna 150, which fueled an already burning passion for flying. He started his flying lessons at age 16, got his private pilot’s license on his 17th birthday and has gone on to earn an airline transport certificate.

In 2014 at age 19, he became the youngest person ever to circumnavigate the globe solo in an aircraft, according to Guthmiller’s bio on his website. His 44-day, 30,000-mile odyssey took him to New York City, London, Greece, Southeast Asia, the Middle East and Hawaii.

That record has since been broken, most recently last year by 17-year-old British-Belgian national Mack Rutherford.

Guthmiller was still in public school when he developed one of the first iPhone unlocking services in 2007 before selling it to another company. 

And as a high school senior, he was a finalist for the 20 Under 20 Thiel Fellowship award before dropping out of the running to attend the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he earned degrees in electrical engineering and computer science.

Fun In The Mountains

In videos of his jet flights out of Alpine, his fighter jet trainer taxis down what could be any rural road or airport scene in all corners of Wyoming. As he accelerates down the runway, Guthmiller speeds past farm houses and outbuildings, before lifting off and climbing over a pristine mountain range.

The jet has a ceiling in the “mid-30,000-foot range,” he said, adding that without advanced avionics, it can’t be flown any higher than 28,000 feet in U.S. airspace. 

“That does add to the operating costs,” he said. “Jets are a little more efficient at higher altitudes.”

Flying over and around Wyoming is a great canvas for feeding his aviation fix, Guthmiller said.

“It’s lots of fun, especially out here in the mountains. You can maneuver it and take it anywhere you want,” he said, adding that the L-39 is “relatively slow, as far as jets go.”

It cruises about 400 miles per hour and can hit 600 mph in some steep maneuvers. 

Matt Guthmiller can climb to about 28,000 feet in his L-39 fighter jet trainer.

Not Entirely Practical, But Who Cares?

The Albatros has added a new dimension in making his video productions, and Guthmiller also likes flying it purely for enjoyment. 

“It’s not the most practical way in the world to get from point A to point B,” he said. “It uses a lot of fuel.”

He’s not sure what his friend paid for the jet, but that the real price of such aircraft is in the operation and maintenance costs.

Even so, it’s worth it, Guthmiller said. “It’s just a fun plane to fly.”

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Mark Heinz

Outdoors Reporter