Before ending his three-month trip, Barrington Irving circled the Opa-locka airport and flew low along the runway as a band played. He smiled and waved as he climbed out of the plane in his tan jumpsuit, hugging and praying with friends and family.
"I am home," he said quietly when he stepped to a microphone. The long flight challenged him mentally and physically, he said, and "I am proud to have had the opportunity to live my dream."
Irving, an aerospace student who built his plane from more than $300,000 in donated parts, had left the Miami-area city March 23. In all, his continent-hopping journey covered some 27,000 miles.
He completed two legs Tuesday, flying the "Inspiration" from Houston to Mobile, Ala., in the morning and then from Mobile to Orlando late in the day. The short flight from Orlando on Wednesday completed his journey.
He claims he is first black person as well as the youngest person to complete the journey alone, though it was unclear how the claims would be validated.
The National Aeronautic Association, the aviation record-keeping authority in the United States, does not track pilots' age, sex or ethnicity, said Nathan Rohrbaugh, who helps coordinate records at the organization.
The Web site EarthRounders.com, which tracks round-the-world flights, lists 255 journeys, including 82 solo trips since 1929. The trip has been done in far less time than Irving, and even by younger pilots, though they were not flying solo.
Irving believes his mission — to bring hope, primarily to inner-city minorities — made his trip unique.
"I want to show them they can do more with their lives than resort to violence!" he wrote on his Web site before his journey ended.
From Florida, he flew to Cleveland and New York before continuing into Canada, then flying across the Atlantic to Europe. He crossed the Middle East and Asia, then flew on to Alaska earlier this month. He stopped in Seattle and Denver before arriving in Houston last week.
Irving, born in Jamaica, became interested in aviation as a teen when a Jamaican-American pilot took him to see a Boeing 777. Now a Florida Memorial University student, he has earned private and commercial pilots licenses and founded Experience Aviation, an organization to encourage other minority youths to get interested in the field.