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Pilot completes global crossing

The 23-year-old hopes to inspire more minority fliers.

June 28, 2007|Melissa Hoyos | South Florida Sun-Sentinel

OPA-LOCKA, FLA. — Barrington Irving kept his fans in suspense Wednesday as he circled the airport in his plane Inspiration -- now marked with flag stickers of the countries he visited on a worldwide adventure.

After a journey that lasted more than three months, the 23-year-old landed his single-engine Lancair Columbia 400 to a hero's welcome at the Opa-Locka Executive Airport.

"I am home," Irving said quietly when he stepped to a microphone. He said the long flight had challenged him mentally and physically. "I am proud to have had the opportunity to live my dream," he said.

Irving, a Florida Memorial University aerospace student, said he was the first black person as well as the youngest person to fly solo around the world, though it was unclear how the claims would be validated.

The National Aeronautic Assn., the aviation record-keeping authority in the U.S., does not track pilots' age, sex or ethnicity, said Nathan Rohrbaugh, who helps coordinate records at the organization.

Hundreds of people gathered at the airport hangar to welcome Irving. Many wore buttons and cooled off with fans bearing Irving's image. A banner in the hangar read, "Live, Dream, Fly!"

Beneath cloudy skies, the Jamaican-born Irving circled the airport a few times before touching down on the runway about 10:30 a.m. He immediately reunited with family and close friends.

"They told me I was too young," Irving told well-wishers. "They told me I didn't have enough money.... They told me it's going to take me forever. They told me I'd never come back home. Well, guess what?" Irving said with a smile.

The young pilot's adventure started in South Florida, where he founded Experience Aviation. The Miami-based group encourages young minority group members to pursue aviation careers. People tracked Irving's progress on the organization's website, experienceaviation.org, where he posted photos and blogged about his journey. He visited U.S. cities to talk about aviation and made similar stops in Greece, Egypt and Japan.

An eight-hour trip through the North Pacific was among his most difficult segments, he said.

Several Air Jamaica pilots expressed their happiness to have Irving home and safe.

"I was committed to following his project. As a Jamaican, I feel very proud," said Paul Atkinson, a pilot who lives in Pembroke Pines.

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The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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