Jamaican born Barrington Irving, a 23-year-old student at Florida Memorial University, set off in his Lancair Columbia 400 – called “Inspiration” – on 23 March, on a trip planned to take 41 days.
After hiccups with weather and bureaucracy, Irving returned 95 days later after flying 23,382nm (43,256km), setting two world records in the process - the first person of African-American descent, and the youngest person ever, to have flown round the world solo. Although Irving had many sponsors, one of the more important aspects of help he received was from Universal Weather and Aviation (booth 7666).
It supplied Irving with his own support specialist and all the services he would need on this once-in-a-lifetime trip. Universal has brought Irving to NBAA to relive his experience and to tell visitors the value of the Universal Aviation support and meet his other NBAA supporters.
“This was no ordinary trip, because of the logistics of getting avgas where we needed it, and when we needed it,” says Universal’s master trip support specialist Keith Foreman. “Some countries he flew through have a very small GA community. For example we routed Barrington through Hong Kong, but they don’t have avgas so we had to get it shipped in, but this took three days so we needed to know exactly when he was going to arrive.”
Fuel issues aside, there were several really challenging legs such as flying from Luxor to Dubai. There was a sandstorm over Saudi Arabia and the engine did ingest sand. But Lancair flew one of their mechanics into Dubai to inspect the engine.
“We lost three or four days, but the engine was okay,” says Foreman. Every flight for every pilot, operator or owner will always pose challenges and learning experiences, but few will have experienced anything like when Irving arrived at Calcutta. With a three-day visa and poor weather in the area the plan was for Irving to fly around the weather. Because of the pilots’ relative inexperience, flights were only to be flown in clear weather and during the hours of daylight. This weather was a typhoon over the Bay of Bengal.
“It just wasn’t safe for him to fly, however -- the Indian immigration authorities were more concerned that his visa was expiring and said he had to go,” says Foreman.
“But, doing what we do best, we got one of our guys in India to put together a portfolio. He went to see the immigration commissioner in New Delhi and the visa was extended for a further two days, although Barrington was under house arrest. There was no question about it; it just wasn’t safe for him to fly at all.” Even in the USA there were problems.
“Barrington had landing clearance at Shemya in Alaska, but the flight was delayed because of weather in Japan. At which point the airfield manager gave us an ultimatum - If he doesn’t land tomorrow then there will be no clearance,” says Foreman.
“So we tried to reroute him and look for other options.” It is worth noting that the range of the aircraft was limited to around 1,600nm, its fuel capacity – even with the extra modifications to include extra tanks – allowed 180USgal [680 litres] to be carried. As such the leg from Asahikawa in Japan to Shemya was about 1,530nm and cutting it close.
However, as Foreman was looking for other options to avoid the Shemya restrictions, the true effect of what Irving was doing began to be noticed around the USA. “Twenty-four hours after we were told by Shemya that our landing clearance was being cancelled we got a phone call from Shemya saying that ‘some general rang, and has overridden us.’
This really wasn’t an ordinary trip, but for me the high point was meeting up with Barrington when he landed in Houston. It was such a good feeling to meet up again after so many months of long distance and odd hours of communication,” says Foreman. Universal’s chairman Greg Evans says: “Barrington’s goal for his historic flight was to provide hope to inner-city youth and inspire them by showing that through hard work their dreams could become reality. I’m proud that Universal helped play a role in that mission and we’re excited to have Barrington as our guest on Tuesday afternoon so others have a chance to meet him.