The first Black pilot to fly solo around the world is spearheading opportunities for minorities in aviation education

BY Ben Ebuka Oji January 24, 2024 5:46 AM EDT
fly around the world
Barrington Irving is the youngest pilot and the first Black man to fly solo around the world. Photo Credit: US Air Force

In high school, many believed that young Barrington Irving made a mistake by declining a full football scholarship to the University of Florida. However, he opted to veer into a fresh direction after conversing with an airline pilot who ignited his fascination with aviation at 15.

“Interest turned into passion once he provided me with the opportunity to sit inside the cockpit of a plane and actually go flying with him,” Irving says of his inspiration. “I was hooked. I only flew over my neighborhood, but I realized that there is a world out there.”

While many of those who questioned Irving’s future were celebrating their college graduations, he was celebrating double titles at 23 as the youngest individual and sole Black person to embark on a solo flight around the globe, a testament to his unwavering passion. What makes this achievement even more extraordinary is that Irving accomplished this feat in an aircraft he constructed by himself.

Since making double history in 2007, Captain Barrington Irving is finding more purpose and fulfillment in helping other people of color find careers in aviation.

Irving has successfully established three education and training platforms to foster the growth and development of the younger generation of BIPOC individuals. He created Experience Aviation, a non-profit organization that provides immersive, hands-on programs rooted in STEM education and offers career guidance to middle and high school students. This exceptional program enables children to enhance their comprehension of STEM subjects and empowers them to construct aircraft and gain valuable insights into the aviation field.

“There is a disconnection between math, science, and how it relates to everyday life. I think that’s the challenge, that and the lack of exposure,” he says.

In 2014, he launched Flying Classroom, an interactive curriculum for students in grades K-8 that combines STEM education with digital resources. This program encourages students to think creatively and develop inventive solutions to the problems Irving explores.

His latest venture is the Barrington Irving Technical Training School (BITTS), a specialized aviation institution that equips aspiring pilots from the younger generation with the essential skills and knowledge required to thrive in the aviation industry.

The primary objective of Barrington Irving Technical Training School is to enhance communities through exceptional technical education, and this is met by offering accessible and top-notch training in aviation and STEM disciplines, drawing inspiration from the founder’s remarkable achievements and unwavering enthusiasm.

Captain Irving’s innovative programs have had a profound impact on numerous students. Through his achievements, he has inspired students who discover their passion for learning through his groundbreaking initiatives.

It is widely known that the aviation industry is fraught with a lack of diversity among pilots. Recent research conducted in 2022 revealed that Black pilots make up less than two percent of the total number of commercial airline pilots.

To bridge the diversity problem in the aviation space and create opportunities for minorities, Captain Irving is tackling the menace head-on and making landmark impacts.

Captain Irving has effectively transformed BITTS into a nurturing and inclusive environment for the younger generation of marginalized communities and individuals aspiring for personal development and empowerment. Students from various backgrounds discover optimism, satisfaction, and prospects within the educational institution, resulting in a rapid increase in enrollment. The student body comprises individuals from diverse cultures, including those with a passion for aviation, those facing adversity, and those with limited or no prior experience in aviation. This accomplishment fills him with a sense of pride, knowing that he is transforming their lives.

Barrington Irving Technical Training School, situated at Miami-Opa Locka Executive Airport, has remained dedicated to nurturing talents since its establishment. With the aim of enrolling 100 students by 2023, the aviation institute recently marked a significant milestone in the ceremony held at Opa-locka Airport in Miami, Florida, to honor the 15 new graduates who successfully completed the training program. It is worth noting that Irving himself began his career as a student at this very Miami Airport. This momentous occasion is not only a milestone for the school but also for the entire aviation industry.

“We have the first-ever graduates of the Barrington Irving Technical Training School (BITTS)! 15 young men and women are beginning their lives in Aviation, many of them hired on the spot by our generous partners in business aviation in South Florida,” Irving wrote on Instagram.

From modest beginnings, the graduates aspired to conquer the skies and tirelessly followed their dreams. With rigorous preparation, unwavering determination, and the invaluable guidance of experienced mentors, they achieved every goal they had set, leaving behind a legacy of motivation for others to follow.

Apart from providing educational opportunities to BITTS students, the institution also plays a crucial role in facilitating job placements for its graduates. This proactive approach not only benefits the companies in the aviation space by ensuring a pool of highly skilled professionals to meet their workforce demands but also addresses the scarcity of experts in the industry.

During the commencement ceremony, the 15 graduates were not only awarded their certifications but were also given the privilege to select the company that aligns best with their career aspirations for their initial employment. This unique opportunity was made possible as multiple companies extended job offers to these graduates.

“I am so proud of them, and to know what they started from,” Irving told the news station. “Opa-locka Airport is where I got my start.”

Irving added, “These young people are signing with various companies in the community who said you know what, ‘We’re going to give you a chance, we’re going to give you an opportunity to flourish within our industry.’”