Young Black aviator soars into the history books against odds

Twenty-five-year-old Barrington Irving had some of the same opportunities growing up in inner city Miami that many of the young people he mentors today have now: opportunities to become involved in gangs, drugs, crime and other destructive behavior and ac

Twenty-five-year-old Barrington Irving had some of the same opportunities growing up in inner city Miami that many of the young people he mentors today have now: opportunities to become involved in gangs, drugs, crime and other destructive behavior and activities.

“Every now and then I would be distracted by it,” Irving told the Defender. “But I knew I didn’t want this path for myself.”

So instead of being drawn into the rough and tumble of the streets, he wants young people to look to the heavens–as he did–for a way out. The escape is not a religious act but a career move that would propel young people into the field of aviation.

Taking to the sky literally saved Irving from the streets.

“I didn’t think I was going to live long,” Irving said, recalling how his peers were being killed or incarcerated.

The Jamaica-born, Miami-raised Irving was the youngest person ever to fly around the world–and the first Black pilot to do so–in a single-engine Columbia plane when he completed the flight at age 23.

With only about 600 flight hours under his belt and youthful adrenaline, he embarked on the daunting–and often dangerous–journey. Most people taking on such a task have 10,000-20,000 flight hours, Irving admitted. Still private and corporate sponsors helped him to raise the $1.2 million it cost to complete his historic flight.

He literally had the wind beneath his wings as he flew over oceans and mountains, through sandstorms and thunderstorms, and across deserts. He had no deicer, no weather radar and he can’t swim. Irving said he flew nonstop in 1200-1800 mile stretches, for eight to 10 hours each stretch to complete the 97-day flight that took him over the Orient, the Middle East, across continents and through many countries.

In flight, Irving turned off the autopilot, sipped on water and “thought ahead” to keep himself entertained and alert, he said. He touched down 27 times, primarily to refuel and to escape flying dangers, including weather.

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