Barrington Irving beat long odds to emerge from inner-city Miami as a pilot and educator, and his selection in May to join the ranks of the National Geographic Society’s Emerging Explorers is but the most recent example.
In 2007, at age 23, Irving took off with $30 in his pocket for a trip around the world. He had weathered more than 50 rejections before landing sponsors to support the 26-day odyssey in a donated, customized Cessna (Columbia) 400 dubbed Inspiration.
Irving later supervised a group of inner-city students who built an airplane from scratch, which he then flew over Miami and then grew into Experience Aviation, offering a variety of hands-on aviation learning opportunities.
The next mission will take Irving to new heights—45,000 feet in an Embraer, with plans to again circle the globe—this time beaming live lessons to students that aim to inspire interest in aviation, science, technology, engineering, and math.
Students will do more than watch: They will be given the power to vote on many decisions, such as where to make the next fuel stop, and what local food Irving should sample. Irving will blog, collecting atmospheric data, talk with the International Space Station, beam back panoramic photos, and wear a NASA body suit that transmits his vital signs.
“No matter rich or poor, kids are bored in school,” Irving told the Miami Herald. “That needs to change.”
Irving spoke to AOPA Live about his plan in 2011, before earning the $10,000 grant that comes with National Geographic’s Emerging Explorer Program.