Volume 26, No. 3: Revving Up for the 2016 Conference in Indy!

Barrington Irving's Inspiring Personal Triumph

They said he couldn't do it. But they were wrong.

The keynote at this year’s opening general session (Thursday, Oct 6, 9:30–10:45) will be pilot, educator, and entrepreneur Barrington Irving. Barrington is an inspiring example of talent and determination rising above circumstances. He grew up in a troubled neighborhood in Miami's inner city but went on in 2007 to become the youngest person, and the only African American, to fly solo around the world. While still in his twenties, he built his own plane himself, flew around the world, graduated with honors from an aeronautical science program at Florida Memorial University, and founded an educational nonprofit organization.

"The only thing that separates you from CEOs in corner offices or scientists in labs is determination, hard work, and a passion for what you want to achieve," Barrington tells kids. "The only person who can stop you from doing something great is you." The key to success, he says, is following a dream, and dreams are born through inspirational experiences that can lead to careers—especially in STEM subjects.

Barrington's life-changing inspiration came when he visited the cockpit of a commercial plane at age 15. From that moment he knew he was destined to be a pilot. He could have played football at the University of Florida on a full football scholarship but opted to wash airplanes to save money for flight school. Determined to fly around the world, he had to overcome many rejections for sponsorship before being given the aircraft components he needed to build his own plane. "Everyone told me what I couldn't do," he said. "They said I was too young, that I didn't have enough money, experience, strength, or knowledge. They told me it would take forever and I'd never come home."

But Barrington proved them wrong. His historic three-month-long flight encompassed 150 hours of flight time and 26,800 miles with stops in Canada, the Azores, Spain, Italy, Greece, Egypt, Dubai, Thailand, Hong Kong, and Japan—with no radar or de-icing equipment. When he touched down at Miami's Opa-Locka Executive Airport on June 27, 2007, the thing that most impressed him was the interest and excitement of the young people who greeted him. "It's humbling, especially in this day and age, when a lot of young black men are getting caught up in the wrong things," said Barrington. "I feel blessed that I had a chance to maybe inspire kids out there, black or white, to become pilots or engineers or air traffic controllers, or to make a positive impact in any other area of life."

Since completing his historic flight, Barrington has dedicated himself to "giving back" with his time and expertise. To accomplish that goal he founded Experience Aviation, an educational nonprofit organization dedicated to encouraging young people to pursue careers in STEM fields.

For more on Barrington Irving and his educational projects, visit Experience Aviation.