As an educator, Irving is exploring the uncharted territory of this generation of students’ future in science and math. With test scores affecting school budgets in low-income neighborhoods, Irving wants to break the cycle by providing a place for students to learn and get practical experience in engineering. This year, returning alumni will build a laser tag arena at one of the airport hangars at Opa-locka airport, which will be open to the community.
Irving and his long-time friend Rajeev Brown run the two programs. Brown works with different corporations like Carnival Cruise Ships and the National Business Aviation Association to fund scholarships for students who can’t afford to pay for the program. The extra effort is worth it to Irving, who made a promise to his mentor to give back before he even took off.
“No matter rich or poor, kids are bored in school,” Irving said. “That needs to change.”
The type of school Irving is planning is everything but boring.
Irving wants to make his second flight around the world. This time, he would be streaming live lessons from the cockpit, 34,000 feet above the classrooms where students would be watching his adventures. He also plans to land on all seven continents, for 50 expeditions, to teach students through interaction with different cultures on virtually every point on the map.
Now that National Geographic has named Irving an Emerging Explorer, that adventure is well under way.
Calls and blogging from the plane will allow students to participate in the adventure, choosing locations and situations for Irving. National Geographic and NASA will be supporting Irving on the flight, as well as covering the 50 stops he will make during the trip, scheduled to start in October 2013. Along with this project, National Geographic will sponsor Irving for the next five years on expeditions around the world.
Among the wonders he will see are Machu Picchu, the Galápagos Islands, the Pyramids, the Serengeti Plains, the Roman Coliseum, the Taj Mahal, and the Great Wall of China. Technology on the plane will share data about the surroundings to students while Irving experiences it firsthand. With this inter-continental flight, Irving will continue to make a connection with young people, using technology in a changing world to make a difference. Raising four kids and running a non-profit in Miami, the Jamaican-born pilot is a grounded family man; even at 45,000 feet, he’s found a way to connect with his roots.
The emergence of young explorers at the new site in Miami Springs has special significance, since the facility was the home of the father of aviation, Glen Curtiss. The architect, engineer, and first commercial pilot, Curtiss created more than 500 patented inventions in the garage of his pueblo-style home. He built the estate in 1925, and after it burned down three times, it seemed to be a forgotten piece of flying history. Then, 13 years ago, the old blueprints were found during a restoration project. After reconstructing the ruined areas of the mansion, the group offered the space to Experience Aviation. The rest of the house will become a museum.
Curtiss, who made several secret corridors and office spaces to avoid social interactions, hardly seems like an influence on Irving. But so far, the space has been an inspiration for him and his students.
Daniel Diaz, 14, an incoming ninth-grader at Coral Park Senior High, has participated in Experience Aviation for three years. While he had never seen aviation as a field before, he has his mind set on being an aeronautical engineer.
“I have a chance to do things that a lot of people my age don’t have,” said Diaz, who flew with Irving in a small plane last year, sealing his love for flying. “I never thought I could feel what it’s like to be in the sky. Now that’s all I want to do.”