At the age of 23, I would venture to say that most of us are just starting to figure out what life is all about. What job to take, what career to pursue or what person to date. But for Captain Barrington Irving, his decision was which routes to take as he prepared to fly around the world solo.
It was a chance encounter with Captain Gary Robinson at the age of 15 in his parents' bookstore that changed Irving’s life forever. “After meeting this gentleman, Captain Robinson, he really introduced me to something different and worth pursuing, says Irving who initially thought he wasn't smart enough to even considering going into aviation. Robinson gave him an encouraging pep talk, took him out on a Boeing 777 and seven years later, history was made.
Just as inspirational is the fact that Irving, like so many of today’s youth growing up inner cities surrounded by crime and poverty, couldn’t even imagine his life today. “I honestly just wanted to play football and make it out the hood. I never thought I would live a long life. I honestly never thought that way because of my upbringing,” says the Miami based pilot who moved to the U. S. from Kingston, Jamaica with his parents at 6-years-old.
Irving did more than just continue to live. He turned down a full college football scholarship from the University of Florida only to receive a scholarship to earn his bachelor’s and flight training from Florida Memorial University. This Guinness World record holder not only graduated with a degree in aeronautical science but also with magna cum laude honors.
He then set out to build a plane and fly around the world. He accomplished this after 26 stops in 97 days. With two years of planning that included a year of getting airspace clearance to land in various countries, his journey started and ended in Miami. For a little over three months, he flew to Ohio (NASA) then on to New York and Canada. From there, another 12 hours put him in the Azores. Next, he flew to Spain, Italy and Greece followed by Egypt, Dubai, India and then Hong Kong and Japan. On the last leg of the trip, he came back through Alaska before working his way further into the states back down into Miami.
“It was very challenging dealing with weather phenomenons such as monsoons, violent thunderstorms, de-icing, my airplane had no de-icing and so forth. Dealing with the challenges flight-wise was tremendous. And then dealing with challenges of cultures, dealing with challenges of food.” When asked if he would do it all again, he said without hesitation definitely not in a single engine airplane. But even with two, he shares, “It is difficult on your body. It is very grueling on your body to fly around the world, switching from time zone to time zone and all these different challenges. It is not as easy as it sounds.”
However, he is planning to do it all again in September 2014 flying to all seven continents as part of a project through his non-profit organization, Experience Aviation. Irving is set to launch the Classroom in the Sky initiative for six months that is a cutting-edge educational adventure for students ages 3- 10. Students around the country, not just Miami, will actually interact with him as he makes another historic trip by helping him select where to stop as well as what to eat. There will also be math and science challenges along the way. “My mentor, one of the things he made me promise was to give back. I remember saying to him ‘I don’t have any money to give’ and he said ‘Give time, give knowledge and share your experiences,’ and that is something that has really stuck with me.”
Irving says Experience Aviation’s goal is to “Make math and science practical and to empower students so that they can become scientists and engineers. We do a number of things from flying around the world to building a plane from scratch or building an auto craft. One of the things that I have found in learning is that if you are able to provide students a hands-on experience where they can apply math and science in a realistic way, their learning gains are tremendous.”
With a goal to raise $2.5 million before departure, Irving continues to look for sponsors who are willing to come on board and support the project. We can all also support by making a personal donation as low as $10 to such a worthy project as every amount, big or small, makes a difference.
Reach one, teach one seems to be a mantra Irving lives by. To date, Experience Aviation has helped hundreds of students discover hidden educational talents in math and science who have gone on to some of the country’s most prestigious colleges such as Duke University with more than $1 million being awarded in scholarships. His organization has also contributed 568,000 hours of instruction and it is safe to say that there is no stopping him now and beyond the sky is the limit.
For more information about Irving, Experience Aviation and how you can support, visit http://www.experienceaviation.org.
Photo credit: Michael Whitty and Jon Ross Photography