On a Solo Mission Around the Globe
FARAI CHIDEYA, host:
Barrington Irving was born in Jamaica and grew up in rough urban Miami. A Jamaican-American pilot helped him see the skies as a way out. Now, Barrington is at the flight controls, and the 23-year-old pilot just might be setting records.
Last week, he finished a three-month solo flight around the world. Barrington says he's the youngest person and the first person of African descent to complete around the world solo flight in a single engine plane.
I asked Barrington what inspired his quest.
Mr. BARRINGTON IRVING (Pilot; Founder, Experience Aviation): I decided to fly around the world. It's been about four and a half years ago. You know, I was going to progress a life, doing the same old negative things that happened in your own backyard, in the community, you know. I wanted to do something about it. So, you know, a lot of people felt I should have waited until I was 35 or 40 years old.
Well, I just felt like, you know what, I might not live to be that age, and what if I can do something now? And that's when I came up with the idea just to prove a point. That anything can be achieved and accomplished within aviation. At that time, I didn't know I would be setting any world records when doing so, and I found that out a year later after doing research.
CHIDEYA: So you say that you're the youngest and first black person to fly around the world solo, but it's up for debate only because the National Aeronautic Association doesn't really keep those information in their aviation records. Why do you think that you are all of these things?
Mr. IRVING: Well, there's an organization called the Earthrounders, and we contacted the Earthrounders. The Earthrounders have the most accurate and most detailed information for anyone who has flown solo around the world. And in my case, I looked at their information, and I received a letter from them stating, according to their records, which stretched back for years, no one has ever filed with them of a black descent, and according to their records with age, I'm the youngest also to do so.
CHIDEYA: When you think about your experiences, have there ever been moments where you're, like, oh, my gosh, I could lose my life doing this?
Mr. IRVING: Yeah. You know, when you're out doing your own over…
CHIDEYA: You say that so casually though.
Mr. IRVING: Well, I guess I've just been so broken by the flight, with all the challenges. But, you know, especially crossing the North Pacific, I mean, the weather changes literally every 15 minutes - winds gusting to more than 100 miles per hour. You know, it's a small aircraft, and to deal with the turbulence and dodging icing conditions and so forth, it is really quite - it was really quite a challenge.
CHIDEYA: Take me into your head and into your body. When you were going through, say, a storm, what - how many instruments did you have to look at? What were you doing to maintain your altitude? Just kind of give me a first-hand experience.
Mr. IRVING: First of all, I didn't fly through any major storms, but I try to fly around them. You know, whether on the backend or front end of them. And the visibility is poor, especially in the North Pacific for example. You have to rely on your instruments. You can't rely on your body senses, which can cause, you know, misdirection. You might think you're up when you're really upside down. So you rely on the instruments, and most importantly, you don't panic.
You know, there were times, of course, yes, I was very nervous. You know, I wasn't sure exactly what was happening right off the bat at first, but you analyze and you evaluate. You look at your altitude. You look at your airspeed. For example, flying from northern Japan to (unintelligible) Alaska. You know, I was flying to a destination on an island that's only two miles big and two miles in circumference and one mile in length, you know? So there's just…
Mr. IRVING: …so many different things that you go through.
CHIDEYA: Well, since your plane was named, Inspiration, that must have been really something that you felt you needed and that you felt you had.
Mr. IRVING: Yeah, that's what I wanted this whole adventure to be, is an inspiration. And I just wanted this flight to be an inspiration that encouraged other young people to pursue their career, their dreams in aviation, and introduce the aviation industry to them because the industry is in massive need of young people. The average age of an engineer is 54 years old.
CHIDEYA: So you're a senior and at an HBCU, Florida Memorial University, and you put school off for a year to do this. Is that something that you question in any way, or do you think it was a good idea?
Mr. IRVING: I think it was a good - I do. You know, there's a part of me that's an entrepreneur. You know, it took me two and a half years to get my first sponsor and, you know, I learned a lot from the flight that can't be taught in the classroom. You know, I founded my own non-profit organization, you know, was able to earn grants.
CHIDEYA: So your non-profit is Experience Aviation. Just tell me a little bit about it.
Mr. IRVING: The non-profit Experience Aviation, the Web site is experienceaviation.org, and our whole purpose in this is to adjust the shortage of professionals within the aviation and aerospace industries. And what we try to do is introduce career to students which, you see, the biggest gap right now in the industry is that there are tons of resources and tons of opportunities, but the problem is it's an intimidating industry, and a lot of students feel as if, you know, just like how I felt.
I didn't believe that I was smart enough to become a pilot. And you know, I find that a lot of students don't believe they're smart enough to design an aircraft or be an air traffic controller or pilot. And what we try to do is to know and introduce but still put students in tap within - with the resources within the community.
CHIDEYA: So a lot of people would say, okay, I want to fly. That's my dream. I've achieved my dream. You must have something else up your sleeve. What's your dream now?
Mr. IRVING: Well, my whole passion is really working with students. You know, because I've seen a lot of things in my life, and I've seen it at a young age and, you know, growing up in inner city where I've grown up in Miami. And my passion is truly helping students in at the same way that I was helped. For me, to have the opportunity to meet a United Airlines captain, just out of the blue, to have a professional making great money, taking time out for an inner city kid, you don't see that often. And I said to myself, man, look how that improved the quality of my life. What if I could do the same for others?
CHIDEYA: Barrington, I'm sure that you will have more things to tell us in the future. Thanks again.
Mr. IRVING: No problem.
CHIDEYA: Barrington Irving says he's the youngest person and the first pilot of African descent to fly solo around the world. He's also the founder of the non-profit Experience Aviation in Miami.
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