By Mike Singer – 28 June 2007
It took longer than we all expected, but Barrington Irving is finally home. At 10:26 Wednesday morning, June 27, the 23-year old pilot touched down at Opa-Locka Executive Airport just north of Miami. Originally scheduled for 53 days, in the end Barrington’s record-setting journey around-the-world took 95 days.
Larger than life
I was there in Miami for Barrington’s launch celebration on March 23rd, and I had hoped to be there for his return. But as fate would have it, I was already committed to be at Morehouse College in Atlanta to demo Flight Simulator X with Brian Hunt at this year’s “Adventures of the Mind” conference. I knew Barrington would approve of the event (at which exceptional high school students from across the country converge for a weekend of conversation with some of the most creative and interesting artists, scientists, and intellectuals on the planet), but still…I wanted to be in Miami to see him touch down.
Waking up on Wednesday morning, I immediately checked the flight tracker and saw that Barrington was already en route to Miami from Orlando. As Brian and I left our hotel to find some breakfast, I couldn’t help wishing I was down there in Florida. We passed a woman holding a Starbucks cup, and being good Seattle boys, we asked her where she got it. Moments later we walked into the 15-story atrium of CNN Center (the world headquarters of the Cable News Network), in search of the food court.
Rounding the corner, I found myself staring at a gigantic Philips Vidiwall LED screen broadcasting CNN’s output to the world. As we stood in line at Starbucks, I couldn’t take my eyes off the larger-than-life display. Then, as if on cue, the commercial cut to a shot of a familiar Columbia 400 landing on a runway. Moments later, there was Barrington climbing out of the plane and greeting his mentor, United Airlines Captain Gary Robinson. No, I didn’t see it in person, but seeing the event unfold on a 9′ 5″ x 16′ 10″ television screen at CNN headquarters was surely the next best thing!
Had I not just seen Barrington in Seattle a week earlier, I would probably have made more of an effort to rearrange my schedule to get to Miami. After a long delay waiting out weather in Japan, he had finally crossed the north Pacific and landed on Shemya in the Aleutian Islands on June 9th. More bad weather kept him grounded there at Eareckson Air Force Base for a week. Then–on June 17th–he finally saw an opening and flew to Anchorage. Two days later it was on to Juneau for an unscheduled overnight stop to wait out an occluded front off the coast of British Columbia.
Finally, at about 3 p.m. on Wednesday June 20th, Barrington guided his Columbia 400 (appropriately named “Inspiration”) down to a perfect landing in Seattle. I was at Boeing Field for the arrival, along with his videographer Juan Rivera (who had been waiting for two weeks!), some press, and some fans. We all gathered on the ramp at Galvin Flying greeting him with handshakes and a flurry of questions. Once he had stretched his legs, Barrington addressed the small crowd in a hangar.
The entire journey had been delayed by so much unexpected bad weather (beginning with a week on the ground in Newfoundland) that nobody could fault Barrington for expressing some frustration. Though he admitted to moments of homesickness during the long days of waiting on the ground, he saw a silver lining: “Because of all the delays, we were able to reach more students and classrooms,” he told us. “That was an unexpected benefit we hadn’t thought of.”
Kids aren’t the only ones who have been inspired by Barrington. Present at the event in Seattle were members of the Tuskegee Airmen Fighter Squadron including Bill Holloman, who told me he’s still waiting for one of us on the Flight Simulator team to help him get set up with FSX! At airshows, kids flock to meet these men who enlisted to become America’s first black military pilots during World War II. So it was quite something to see them excitedly lining up to shake hands with Barrington.
Later that evening Barrington, Juan, and I met up with Millison Fambles, an Alaskan Airlines pilot I wanted Barrington to meet. Millison runs an annual aviation day camp at Boeing Field for local kids from low-income or disadvantaged families. The kids get to fly simulators, talk to pilots, tour the control tower, and learn about aviation careers. Barrington and Millison share the same passion: showing kids that there are compelling futures out there they may never have thought of, and providing a path–and the inspiration–to get there.
As we chatted, I was struck by Barrington’s singular focus. Here he was, on the final legs of a record-setting journey around the world, and he was more interested in talking about “the kids” than he was in talking about his airplane, his journey, or himself. Completing a flight around the world was a big goal for Barrington, to be sure. But the flight itself was never the point.
Home at last
After Seattle, Barrington stopped in Denver, Houston, Mobile, and Orlando before heading to Miami yesterday morning. While I was watching the landing on the big screen at CNN, Ron Hamilton and Bob Hayes from Eaglesoft (both early supporters of Barrington’s project) were there in person.
“The predominant emotion at the airport was excitement,” Ron told me. “Both for what Barrington did and for what’s to come. The event was both a celebration of Barrington’s historic accomplishment and an inspiration for today’s youth to become involved in aviation at the grass roots level.”
When I asked him how Barrington seemed to be doing, Ron’s answer was as I expected: “He’s overjoyed and exhausted at the same time.”
While big dreams are where it ends for most people, Barrington took it a step further and took action to make his dream a reality. The results speak for themselves: Barrington is now the youngest person to ever fly solo around the world, and the first person of African descent to do it. But more importantly, he’s had a tremendous impact on people all over the world. Just take a look at the comments people have left on his Live Spaces blog.
Barrington may be home now, but his journey is far from over. Speaking engagements, a book, a documentary, and educational programs for schools are all items on his agenda in the future.
As Barrington works to use his World Flight Adventure to inspire kids and promote aviation, the Flight Simulator team will remain involved. Stay tuned!