On March 23, 2007, Barrington Irving, who was just 23 at the time, set out on a 97-day journey that would not only change his life, but also remind young black children across America that with hard work and dedication anything is truly possible. Irving is the first black person to fly around the globe on a solo flight, as well as the youngest person to every complete a solo flight around the globe.
Irving’s story begins in the inner city of Miami, where a strong family structure helped him steer clear of a life of crime and poverty. Irving stayed out the streets, instead turning to the gridiron as a safe haven. He was no slouch either, eventually turning down a football scholarship from the University of Florida.
But it was a meeting with pilot Gary Robinson that would change his life forever. While working at his parents bookstore Irving met the Jamaican-born commercial pilot who began to tell him about the benefits of his profession. Robinson asked Irving, who also was born in Jamaica, if he would consider becoming a pilot someday, but feeling that he wasn’t intelligent enough, Irving declined.
Robinson invited Irving to join him on a test flight at the Opa-locka airport near his home, and from that day on Irving knew that aviation was for him.
After learning to fly by using flight simulator games and careful instruction from Robinson, Irving was determined to fly around the world. But instead of on commercial planes like his mentor, Irving had a different idea in mind.
After no aircraft manufacturer would willingly loan, lease or donate a plane for his journey, Irving took matters into his own hands and began asking manufacturers for individual plane parts.
“The first two-and-a half years people told me no,” Irving said. “Anything worthwhile doesn’t come easy, that’s what someone told me and it’s so true.”
Irving would eventually secure around $300,000 in donated aircraft parts, and the rest was history.
On March 23, 2007, he took off in his single-engine aircraft “Inspiration,” and after 97 days landed back in his home state of Florida.
“I was very grateful, being the first black man to fly around the world because other black pilots like the Tuskegee Airmen didn’t have that opportunity,” he said. “And I was just very grateful to be the youngest person to have the opportunity to inspire kids. I didn’t know I would have such an impact on kids.”