Barrington Irving was fifteen when a United Airlines pilot came into his parents’ Christian bookstore and asked him if he ever thought about flying planes.
“I told him I didn’t think I was smart enough to become a pilot,” Irving said.
Born in Jamaica and raised in Miami’s inner city, Irving had his sights set on playing football. But his plans were intercepted when the pilot took him under his wings.
“I turned down football scholarships and that was it. I was hooked,” said Irving.
After spending two years at Broward Community College, Irving landed a full scholarship to study aeronautical science at Florida Memorial University. He was still in college when he started a learning center called Experience Aviation. But using flight simulators to teach kids about aerospace wasn’t enough for Irving. He wanted to do something big.
WATCH NIGHTLY NEWS COVER IRVING’S FLIGHT AROUND THE WORLD
“I wanted to do something that would be adventurous and at the same time would inspire young people,” Irving remembers. “At first I said, ‘What if I flew around the United States?’ I thought, ‘that’s not cool enough.’ I said, ‘What if I flew around the world?’”
On June 27, 2007, the 23-year-old achieved his goal and made history as the first black pilot and the youngest person ever to fly solo around the world. He flew 30,000 miles in 97 days in a single-engine plane named Inspiration. Upon his return, Irving was flooded with job offers, but he turned them all down because he wanted to work with kids.
In 2008, Irving risked his life again by taking flight in a plane built entirely by Miami high school students. The plane was named Inspiration II.
“I see how I can make math and science appealing to kids, especially minority kids,” says Irving, now 26.
“For us as a country to continue to be dominant, we’re going to need [more] scientists. All these entertainment careers aren’t going to take us to that next level,” said Irving.
In the future, Irving hopes to expand his programs across the U.S. and the world – giving more kids who might not think they’re smart enough to fly the wings to soar higher than they ever imagined.