Pilot pushes pursuit of science education

Barrington Irving, who flew solo around the world

Barrington Irving, who flew solo around the world when he was 24, speaks to students at the Cradle of Aviation museum, about is trip as well as his plans for the future. With him is Mitch Morimoto, President and CEO of Mitsubishi Heavy Industries of America, who helped sponsor the event. (Aug. 1, 2012) (Credit: Linda Rosier)

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Barrington Irving had no choice. Despite not having a working weather radar in his single-man Cessna, he had to fly straight into the coming sandstorm to cross Saudi Arabia.

The pilot -- then 23 -- said he didn't know if he was going to make it.

But Irving braved the blinding storm on his flight from Luxor, Egypt to Dubai, one of many adventures he experienced in 2007, when he became -- according to Guinness World Records -- the youngest and first black pilot to fly solo around the globe.

"Something you start -- you have to finish," said Irving, 28, who grew up in Miami.

The aviator spoke Wednesday to about 200 people at the Cradle of Aviation Museum in Garden City, chronicling his record-breaking flight and urging students to concentrate on math and science learning.

Yesterday's event was part of Irving's Dream & Soar initiative, a nationwide, Mitsubishi-sponsored speaking tour through which he has promoted aviation education to nearly 10,000 students.

"His [Irving's] adventures aren't just about aviation," said Mitch Morimoto, president and chief executive of Mitsubishi Heavy Industries America. "We all should continue to be students -- even when we graduate from school."

Born in Kingston, Jamaica, Irving turned down a scholarship to play fullback at the University of Florida. He studied aeronautical science at Florida Memorial University, setting his sights on flight.

After 2 1/2 years of fundraising, Irving -- then a senior in college -- began his round-the-world flight from Miami with "$30 in my pocket," he said.

The 97-day, nearly 27,000-mile trip took him to 13 countries.

"I was most scared of falling asleep," Irving said. "I'd hand-fly the airplane and eat a lot of sunflower seeds."

Incoming freshmen to the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math Magnet Academy in Uniondale attended the event, a preview of the coming year's daily, hands-on classes at the museum.

For Dave Lacroix, a 15-year-old sophomore in the program, Irving is an inspiration. The Westbury native said he's interested in medicine or biomedical engineering because he likes a challenge and wants to help people.

"It gives me hope that I can do something that great," Lacroix said after Irving's speech. "He overcame so much."

Irving -- partnering with NASA and National Geographic for another round-the-globe flight in 2013 -- said that in high school, he didn't think he was even smart enough to fly.

"You have to believe," he said.

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