Record-setting pilot teaches kids they can fly

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Growing up in Miami, Barrington Irving was like a lot of young black men – he wanted to play professional football. That was until a pilot, Captain Gary Robinson, came into his life. That pilot challenged Irving to be involved in aviation.

“He asked me if I ever thought I could become a pilot and I told him I didn’t think I was smart enough,” Irving said in a recent interview.

Irving proved he was not only smart enough to be a pilot, but skilled enough to set world records. On June 27, 2007, 23-year-old Captain Irving became the youngest person ever and the first African American person to fly solo around the globe. On his 97-day journey he flew 30,000 miles in a single-engine aircraft called “Inspiration.”

He encountered thunderstorms, snow storms, sand storms and monsoons along the way, a task so improbable Irving said, “If I had to do it 10 times the way I did it, I would have only made it twice.”

He left Miami with only 30 dollars in his pocket and embarked on a trip with a mission to show young people that they can achieve anything if they have the “hunger”.

In the summer of 2007, his Miami-based nonprofit organization Experience Aviation, launched a 10-week program entitled “Build and Soar” which gave 60 children the opportunity to construct a Zenith XL aircraft. To prove how much he believed in their abilities, he piloted the test flight for the very plane they built in October 2008.

Now, Irving is setting his sights on helping kids in school. More than 50 elementary and high school students from the Newark, NJ school system graduated from the Inaugural Newark-Mitsubishi Scientist in Residence Program this month. With support from Mitsubishi, Irving wants to make sure inner-city students in Newark and other cities know that anything is possible.

Terrell Williams, a seventh grader, said, “At first I wanted to be a football player but after I came here then I seen that I wanted to be a pilot. Irving told me I could be both.”

Irving stresses the importance of learning math as well as science.

Student Matthew Reyes said, “I’m not really a math fan, I’m more a science fan but when I saw that math had to do a lot with science I was like ‘I’m gonna try and do my best in math and science, so combine those two to become big in the future.’”

Irving plans to continue to give back to kids as long as he can. He said, “When I made a decision to get into aviation and turn down so many football scholarships, I wasn’t thinking about flying over the world and having kids build an airplane and flying it. I just wanted to do something that made me happy. When it’s all said and done and you’re buried in the ground all that knowledge and all the experience is buried with you, so you try to share it with as many people as possible.”