He was the youngest man – and first African-American – to fly solo around the world. Now he has a new project: teaching children from the sky. Introducing Barrington Irving, InsideHook’s Man of the Month for December.
One cold and black night 25,000 feet above the Bering Sea, Barrington Irving flew into an ice storm.
His tiny, single-engine Cessna was buffeted by winds at 110 knots.
He had no de-icing system.
He had no weather radar.
His only option was to turn back into Russian airspace. But with no clearance, his salvation might come in the form of an air-to-air missile.
So as the clouds loomed and he tumbled through the Arctic darkness, Irving reasoned he was about to die.
“It felt like I was marching towards death.”
But instead of marching towards death, Barrington Irving — only 23 and on the way to becoming the youngest man and first African-American to fly solo around the world — flew into history.
And today, at 30, he’s building a classroom that will expose children to careers in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math, as he – quite literally – flies it around the world.
He’s building The Flying Classroom.
Long before he set his globe-spanning record, Irving was just a nondescript Jamaican immigrant attending school in Miami’s notoriously crime-ridden Liberty City.
“I went to a high school with a pregnancy center,” Irving says. “And I still remember the morning I saw a dead body on my way to class.”
Fortunately for Irving, a Jamaican neighbor and pilot took an interest in him and offered to show him the cockpit of a Boeing 777. He was hooked.
He received an Air Force/Florida Memorial University Flight Awareness Scholarship. By 2007, with only 600 hours of flight experience, Irving made his record-breaking solo flight around the world.
97 days, 13 countries and 145 flight hours — including those tense moments in an ice storm above the Bering Sea.
Fans followed him online all the way.
That participation led Irving to a realization: kids like him – underserved kids back in Liberty City with few opportunities – were interested in learning.
And so the idea of The Flying Classroom was born.
Today, Irving is fast at work transforming a Beechcraft jet into that classroom.
“I want to give young people the world, and we can do that through their sense of wonderment and curiosity.”
Irving has built an interactive program where he’ll broadcast live video feeds, host forums and conduct educational lessons – all from 40,000 feet in the air.
Kids will vote on everything: where Irving should go, what types of foods he’ll eat and what the curriculum will be.
The curriculum is web-based, so teachers are able to use the lesson plans in class.
The Flying Classroom is slated to launch in 2014.
It’s an ambitious project that has raised over 1.5 million dollars in fundraising — an achievement which Irving credits to his will and determination.
“There’s nothing special about me, but I have resilience.”
Like when he flew through that ice storm, and found a landing strip on an island that was only 1,600 meters long.
That night, he set his Cessna down with just 12 minutes of fuel to spare.
“You have to do things,” he says, “with a sense that anything is possible.”
The Flying Classroom is taking donations in hopes of reaching its goal before the 2014 school year starts. You can donate here.
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