On June 27, 2007, at the age of 23, Barrington Irving became the youngest and first African-American pilot to fly solo around the world. Irving – born in Kingston, Jamaica and raised in Miami, FL – took this daring and historical trip to show young people that there was no limit to what they could achieve. He landed at the Opa-Locka Airport in Miami after 97 days of travel.
Irving’s first interest in aviation spurred at the age of 15. While working in his parent’s Christian bookstore, a Jamaican pilot asked young Irving if he ever thought about flying and when he responded that he didn’t think he was smart enough, the pilot took him to the airport to see the cockpit of the Boeing 777 jet the he flew for United Airlines.
“It felt like I discovered something so cool, something so inspiring, something that takes you to another world. I feel in love with aviation, I knew that’s exactly what I wanted to do after I had someone to mentor me,” he said.
When he graduated from high school, Irving turned down several football scholarships to pursue a career in aviation. He attended Broward Community College for two years, majoring in aeronautical science on the Florida Bright Future Scholarship. Irving’s volunteer work, speaking to students in churches and community groups about aviation and his journey, earned him a joint Air Force/ Florida Memorial University Flight Awareness Scholarship, covering tuition and flying lessons from Miami community leaders.
Irving earned his Private Commercial Pilot and Certified Flight Instructor licenses as well as his Instrument and Multi-Engine Rating, but he envisioned a bigger dream than becoming a pilot. He wanted to fly around the word.
But it wasn’t a dream that would be accomplished immediately or easily. No aircraft manufacturer was willing to loan, lease or donate a plane for Irving’s journey. The young pilot, however, wasn’t willing to give on up his dream and instead of asking manufacturers for a plane, he sought out individual components.
“The first two-and-a-half years people told me no. Anything worthwhile doesn’t come easy, that’s what someone told me and it’s so true”, Irving said.
After securing $300,000 worth of donated aircraft parts, the aircraft manufacturer Columbia built him the world’s fastest single-engine piston airplane, the Columbia 400.
In 2005, while the plane was being assembled, Irving founded Experience Aviation, Inc., a non-profit that introduces inner-city and minority youth to careers in aviation and aerospace.
On March 23, 2007, Irving took off in his aircraft, “Inspiration” from Miami to accomplish his dream of flying around the world. He made stops in Canada, The Azores, Span, Italy, Greece, Egypt, Dubai, Thailand, Hong Kong and Japan. Although Irving was accomplishing his goal, he continued to face challenges.
“I didn’t know if I would make it. I would have air pilots at much higher amplitudes asking if I was going to make it. Some would say I don’t think you’re going to make it turn around. It was really tough. I told myself I had no choice, I told myself I was going to do something and the grace of God would keep me going,” he said.
Irving described making history as a humbling and gracious experience.
“I was very grateful, being the first black man to fly around the world because other black pilots like the Tuskegee Airman didn’t have that opportunity. And I was just very grateful to be the youngest person to have the opportunity to inspire kids. I didn’t know would have such an impact on kids,” Irving said.
“It’s humbling, especially in this day and age, when a lot of young black men are getting caught up in the wrong things,” said Mr. Irving. “I feel blessed that I had a chance to maybe inspire kids out there, black or white, to become pilots or engineers or air traffic controllers, or to make a positive impact in any other area of life.”