This spring, Barrington Irving, a 23-year old senior majoring in aerospace at Florida Memorial University, will trade his cap and gown for a brown flight suit, climb into a single-engine plane he calls “Inspiration,” and embark on a round the world flight that will make him the first person of African descent and the youngest person ever to fly solo around the globe.
Born in Kingston, Jamaica and raised in inner-city Miami, Barrington hopes his 5-week historic flight will inspire other young people to resist the negative influences of the streets and work toward their dreams. As a teenager, Barrington and his friends shared a sense of hopelessness about their futures, as there was little incentive or opportunity for minority youth in the inner city to pursue professional careers. He earned good grades in high school but saw a football scholarship as his only route to college. Then one afternoon, working in his parents’ Christian bookstore, Barrington began talking with a customer, a Jamaican airline pilot, Captain Gary Robinson, who invited him to the airport the next day to see the cockpit of the Boeing 777 jet he flew for United Airlines. That day changed the young man’s life forever.
Barrington was just 15 but had found his passion. He started spending afternoons and weekends at the airport, washing planes for private aircraft owners in exchange for half-hour flights or money he could use for flying lessons. Every evening he practiced flying on his own using $40 Microsoft Flight Simulator software. Focused on the dream of becoming a pilot, he turned down college football scholarships and enrolled in a community college where his tuition was partly covered by a Florida Bright Future Scholarship based on his high marks in high school.
Barrington spent every free moment thinking about aviation, doing odd jobs to pay for flight lessons and speaking to church, school, and community groups, such as “5000 Role Models,” about career opportunities for youth in the aviation field. Before long, his volunteer efforts were noticed by community leaders in Miami, who awarded him a joint Air Force/Florida Memorial University Flight Awareness Scholarship that would cover college tuition and flying lessons.
In 2003, Barrington enrolled in Florida Memorial University where he excelled in both academic and flight training courses. Over the next few years, he continued his volunteer work as he earned his Private, Commercial Pilot, and Flight Instructor licenses as well as his Instrument Rating.
In 2005, the young pilot founded a nonprofit organization, Experience Aviation, Inc., to address the significant shortage of youth pursuing careers in aviation and aerospace. Supported by a $10,000 grant from Miami Dade Empowerment Trust, a federally funded economic development group, he offered information and guidance programs to young people in South Florida that included touring planes at the airport and learning how to use a flight simulator. Given the success of that program, the Empowerment Trust increased its commitment to $75,000 to reach more youth in the community. Barrington used those funds to set up the first Experience Aviation Learning Center, using donated computers and Microsoft Flight Simulator software, at Miami’s Opa-locka Airport.
The Columbia 400 aircraft that will carry Barrington on his World Flight Adventure has its own story. In 2003, Barrington began calling aircraft manufacturers with the unlikely request to borrow, lease, or donate a plane he could use to make aviation history. When no one said yes, he decided to ask manufacturers of the various components to donate just one of their individual products to him; he also asked Columbia, an aircraft manufacturer, whether they’d agree to assemble the plane if he could produce the parts.
During the next year, with support and guidance from Miami Executive Aviation, he visited aviation trade shows throughout the country and secured more than $300,000 in donated components-the engine, tires, cockpit systems, seats, and so forth-and Columbia built him the world’s fastest single-engine piston airplane, ready to be modified with extended fuel tanks a few weeks before the global flight. In addition, he received fuel support from Chevron that enabled him to train for the global flight and visit schools throughout the country.
Barrington also approached Microsoft, who offered to host a flight blog during the trip and donate free Flight Simulator software to students taking part in Experience Aviation programs. Two satellite communications companies have also donaed a tracking system that will enable students to join Barrington’s flight, in real time, through a download from the Internet. In addition, a software development company has created a lifelike simulation of Barrington in the cockpit of his plane.
Barrington is an inspiring role model for children and adults alike. Though he started his aviation career with few financial resources, he has continued to pursue his goals with the self-confidence of an entrepreneur who sees no limits to what he can achieve. Having left the city streets for a future in the sky, he hopes his World Flight Adventure will encourage other young people to leave their fears behind and reach for the stars.
Follow Barrington on his blog at http://barringtonirving.spaces.live.com/. As of April 11 he was in Spain.