July 12, 2013 at 9:16 AM ET
Some teens use their summer vacations to sunbathe, or play video games, or watch TV, or sleep. But one 17-year-old in New Hampshire really has his head in the clouds.
On Thursday evening, Robert Pinksten attained a dizzying new record: He became the youngest person in aviation history to obtain licenses to pilot both helicopters and private airplanes. He qualified for his helicopter license on July 2 — his 17th birthday — and then completed requirements for his private pilot license nine days later on July 11.
"It's surreal; I still don't believe it," Pinksten told TODAY.com. "My whole life I've grown up wanting to be a pilot. ... It's a great feeling."
On his 16th birthday last year, Pinksten became the youngest person in the United States (at that particular moment in time) to pilot a helicopter solo without a flight instructor. This year, as his 17th birthday approached, Pinksten knew he wanted to take his passion for flying to a whole new level.
“A full private license is basically like getting your driver’s license instead of just a learner’s permit,” Pinksten said. “Now I can fly with passengers. I can fly solo. I can go fun places.”
He already has plenty of fun places in mind.
“I’m planning (airplane) trips with my Dad,” Pinksten said. “We’re going to fly to New York City, and to Cape Cod. ... It’ll be fun to fly into an airport just to have lunch in Maine or in New York.”
For the last few months, Pinksten has been accumulating hours of helicopter and airplane flight training time. He did his first solo flight in an airplane in December 2012 after 8.6 hours of flight time with an instructor. He’s also been posting updates about his efforts on his website, RobCanFly.com.
The Federal Aviation Administration requires a pilot to be at least 17 to get a license. Now that Pinksten has completed the oral exams and check rides for his two favorite modes of transport, he can fly private airplanes that weigh less than 12,500 pounds and have single engines, as well as helicopters that weigh less than 12,500 pounds, even if they have four engines.
Two other 17-year-olds in the United States currently hold private pilot and helicopter certificates, the FAA confirmed, but neither of them obtained their licenses so close to their 17th birthdays.
Pinksten is “the youngest to achieve both, in the shortest amount of time,” the agency told TODAY.com.
Pinksten first caught the flying bug during a job shadow for his social studies class in the fall of 2011. His mother works in the aircraft insurance business, and she put her son in contact with the owner and chief flight instructor at C-R Helicopters in Nashua, N.H. Pinksten spent about an hour and a half in a four-seater helicopter during someone else’s lesson, and he was hooked.
“I loved it,” Pinksten told TODAY.com shortly before his 16th birthday. “I knew it was something I wanted to do.”