Barrington Irving knew he wanted a career in aviation at the age of 15. Less than a decade later, he broke an aviation world record.
Black History Month is just around the corner but it is never too early to start celebrating. To kick things off, meet Barrington Irving, the first black pilot to fly around the world solo. At just 23 years old, the young pilot flew across the globe in the year 2007, setting a world record. In fact, he wasn't just the first black person to complete a solo flight around the world in a single-engine plane, but he was also the youngest person ever to do so. According to BlackHistory.com, Irving flew a total of 26,800 miles in just 97 days.
The ambitious pilot's trip began in Miami, Florida. Then, while on his journey, he made pit stops at 27 different locations, including Canada, Portugal, Spain, Italy, Greece, the United Arab Emirates, India, Thailand, China, and Japan. He returned to his base in Miami on June 27, 2007. He flew for a grand total of 150 hours, during which he experienced several challenges such as loneliness and bad weather (as all solo pilots do). The long stretches were particularly bad as he would find himself feeling incredibly frustrated. Furthermore, when he encountered huge cloud formations and turbulence, he would feel quite nervous. Nonetheless, he chose to remain committed and pulled through. He claims he did so mostly because of his fans, whose enthusiasm he would see when he communicated with them on ExperienceAviation.org wherever he landed.
Sadly, he did not just face challenges up in the air - there were quite a few hurdles to jump down on land too. He, unfortunately, faced rejections from 50 sponsors, all of whom he had contacted over a long period of two years. Many believed he was "too young and inexperienced" to complete the journey. Thankfully, some sponsorships came through. He received cash donations and even spare aircraft parts. He used the latter to build the single-engine Cessna Corvalis 400 plane he flew on his world-record-breaking trip. Irving thus appropriately named the plane "Inspiration". Ever since he completed his ambitious journey, he has been recognized for his determination and ability to inspire others. In October 2007, he was awarded the Jamaica National Honor, Order of Distinction Rank of Commander. A month later, he was inducted into the African American Research Library's Hall of Famous Black Achievers in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
Irving was born in Jamaica but grew up in Miami. His fascination with aviation and planes began when he was just 15 years old. A United Airlines pilot invited him for a tour at the cockpit of a Boeing 777 airliner, and he was immediately hooked. To learn more about aviation, he worked numerous jobs at airports and even practiced on a computer flight simulator at home in order to improve his skills. Then, after high school, though he was offered several football scholarships, he turned them all down to pursue his true passion: aviation. In 2003, he was the recipient of a $100,000 U.S. Air Force Flight Awareness Scholarship to study aeronautical science at Florida Memorial University. Two years later, the pilot established the nonprofit organization Experience Aviation so he could empower youth, especially those from minority communities, to follow in his footsteps and pursue careers in aviation.
In an interview with The New York Times, Irving shared, "It's humbling, especially in this day and age, when a lot of young black men are getting caught up in the wrong things. 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." Now, young people like him can pursue their dreams too, thanks to his dedication.