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First black pilot to fly around the world home at last

Barrington Irving's high-flying dream of circling the world will be complete this morning, when he touches down in his single-engine Columbia Lancair at Opa-locka Executive Airport today and earns his niche in aviation history.

After two years of organizing, three months of flying and four continents visited, the 23-year-old Miami Gardens resident will become the youngest pilot -- and first black -- to fly solo around the world.

His landing is expected at 10 a.m., 95 days and 25,600 miles after the plane he named "Inspiration" took off on the world trip.

"I know I'm close, but I'm not taking anything for granted, " Irving said in a phone interview earlier this week, after crafting his final flight plan from Houston, to Mobile, Ala., and finally North Central Dade, his home turf. "It all hasn't hit me because I'm so focused on getting back home."

Irving has wanted to fly around the world since he was a teenager, hoping his intercontinental adventure would motivate young people in inner-city Miami to aspire to big challenges. Along the way, he has inspired people across the world who followed his progress on the web. Thousands are expected to attend his landing, where he will be greeted by local politicians and a steel-drum band.

The journey was longer and more taxing than Irving expected. The flight route was scheduled to take 37 days. It took nearly three times that, as he consistently ran into trouble: snowstorms, sandstorms, rainstorms and monsoons.

Irving, who got his first pilot's license at 19, said he stressed safety over speed.

The extended stay gave him time to soak in local culture, he said. He got ahaircut in Rome and developed a taste for shish kabobs in Athens. He admired how family-focused homes were throughout Asia and marveled at the architectural creativity in Dubai.

"It's amazing, " Irving said. "They have a ski resort in the middle of the desert!"

Despite those enlightening experiences, Irving said he experience loneliness and frustration. His body had a difficult time adjusting to the time changes, and he has lost about 15 pounds.

His only constant contact was his best friend, Juan Rivera, who met him in various countries and shot film for a documentary.

And then there were hours alone aboard Inspiration, where he navigated through turbulent skies and tried to cope with increasing pressure to rush the journey and return home. The average distance between stops was 870 miles, he said.

The journey was logged on his website, www.experienceaviation.org, where people like Cal Barrington Nathan, of Bend, Ore., tracked him at every stop. When he read the name "Barrington, " Nathan said he told his wife: "This boy must be Jamaican."

Nathan, who, like Irving, was born in Jamaica and moved to Miami, had an immediate interest. Bend was originally on Irving's flight route but was scratched.

"We were hoping to meet him at the airport and show him there were Jamaicans in Oregon, " he said.

He was disappointed Irving didn't stop there, but continued to track the flight.

"Young people today are so confused, " said Nathan, who hopes he can watch the landing on television. "What a role model, what an example. And he's just at the start of his life. I remember when I was 23. My goodness, I was so immature compared to this guy."

Miami-Dade County Commissioner Barbara Jordan, who represents the district where Irving lives and helped him raise the $1.2 million for his quest, said she has continued to be impressed with him. She's trying to get him booked on Oprah.

"She needs to know about him!" Jordan said.

"From the first time I met him, I was just so amazed with how grounded and determined he was. Here is a young man who believed he could do something, work toward it and got other people to believe in his dream."

When he returns to Miami, Irving plans on completing his graduate studies at Florida Memorial University and working onExperience Aviation, a Saturday morning teaching program he started to instruct neighborhood young people about flying.

Irving said he's not sure if wants to circumnavigate the world again.

"I'm just grateful that God has taken me this far, " he said. "It's been mentally and physically taxing so far, and I've had a greater impact on youth -- and older people too -- than I had ever even imagined."

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