Pilot and Educator: Barrington Irving

Pilot and Educator: Barrington Irving

As the first and only African American to fly solo around the globe, Barrington Irving has also created a nonprofit organization, Experience Aviation, which takes students out of classrooms and into a cockpit. Students are able to learn hands-on math and science, while exploring their passion for aviation.


5 - 12+


Astronomy, Engineering, Geography, Physical Geography, Mathematics

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Barrington Irving is a pilot, educator, and 2012 Emerging Explorer. He is the first and only African American to fly around the world solo—in a plane he built himself. Through his successes, he has been able to ignite the minds of many students who find passion and learning through his nonprofit organization, Experience Aviation.


“Just make the first step, whether you trip or stumble, you’re still moving forward,” says Barrington.

In high school, many people believed Barrington took a fall when he chose to turn down a full football scholarship to the University of Florida. However, he chose to stumble in a new direction that propelled him forward.

After speaking with an airline pilot who sparked his interest in aviation when he was 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,” Barrington says. “I was hooked. I only flew over my neighborhood, but I realized that there is a world out there.”

When most of the people who doubted Barrington’s future were walking across the stage to accept their college diplomas, he was accepting a different title. At 23 years old, he became the youngest—and only African American—to fly around the world solo. Barrington accomplished this feat in a plane he built himself.

“When you’re a pioneer, whether it’s in aviation, medicine, or being a geographer, what ever the case may be, it’s expected that you will have moments where you are by yourself,” he says. “It’s important, it doesn’t mean there is something wrong with you or something wrong with the process, what it means is you are on to something big and it takes time for you to realize and process it.”


“Exploring places that you know exist. It is always fascinating to discover what you don’t know. Whether it’s being in Italy and discovering that Italian dressing doesn’t exist, to seeing the catacombs in Italy or Egypt. There are just so many things to discover in this world that speaks for itself.”


“Being innovative. I have a very strong passion for young people and designing different programs. We are in a world now where kids have access to video games, YouTube, and all of these different things that are distracting. It’s always challenging to create specialty projects that will fire off neurons and challenge the brain, but at the same time inspire them to become explorers or to become innovators.”


“It’s one of the many ways to explore the world without leaving the physical place you’re at,” Barrington says. “Geography is one of those things where it can motivate and inspire you, but it allows you to dream. There are very few things today that allow kids to dream and envision things.”


Barrington’s motivation has trickled onto his nonprofit organization, Experience Aviation. Not only does the program allow kids to build planes and learn about aviation, it allows them to gain a better understanding of math and science.

“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.

Through aviation, Barrington has been able to expose a wide variety of students, from all walks of life, to engage in learning and exploration.

So what’s next for Barrington and his students? How about morphing a $5 million jet into a classroom?

“We are transforming [the jet] into an exploration vehicle where basically I will be able to collect atmospheric data, share information, stream live footage, blog with kids, call classrooms, while I’m flying over different places in the world, so that’s the in-air experience,” he says.


“I think if you want to pursue any technical career, like aviation, marine biology, or something like an engineer, math and science are important. The processes within them are also important, like the scientific method.”

Barrington tells the students and educators he works with that the best advice he can give is to bring creativity into the classroom.


“It’s about exposure. Don’t try to script it for the kids. Just take them somewhere, show them what happens, and let them guide, let them dictate what they want to absorb and don’t want to absorb, let them become their own explorers in a controlled environment.”

Fast Fact

I encountered a sandstorm at 17,000 feet above Saudi Arabia. I didnt even know sand could get that high, to be honest. That was a horrific experience. Its like you are in a wall of clouds of sand and you see this wall approaching you. Then youre engulfed in it and you hear it scraping against your windshield and coming through the vents. I was very fortunate my engine, the turbo chargers on my engine were spared. Barrington Irving, pilot

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Alyssa Samson
National Geographic Society
National Geographic Society
Last Updated

April 25, 2024

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