Bruce Dickinson likes to fly some heavy metal — about 240,000 pounds of it — when he’s not performing as Iron Maiden’s frontman.
On the band’s 2008-09 tour — showcased on the new DVD “Flight 666” which was voted best music documentary at the South by Southwest Festival — Dickinson pulled double duty as lead singer and chief pilot on the band’s customized Boeing 757, named “Ed Force One” with Maiden’s zombie mascot “Eddie” on the tail fin.
He’d wear his Astraeus Airlines uniform — white shirt with epaulets and pressed trousers — when flying between tour stops. Then, he’d leap around the stage in outlandish costumes — putting on a red 19th-century British army tunic while singing “The Trooper” or a feathered mask for “Powerslave.”
As the band’s “designated driver,” he’d refrain from late-night carousing, turning in early and avoiding any drinking to meet aviation industry regulations for mandatory rest periods and zero blood-alcohol content.
But Dickinson didn’t mind “being a party pooper” since the tour offered a chance to combine his passions for flying and rock music.
“The only caveat is that I was working much harder than everybody else,” said Dickinson. “But I never get tired of going to work because I just think that singing with Iron Maiden and flying a jet airliner are the two best jobs in the world.”
The British heavy metal band wrapped up its tour in early April after performing before nearly 2 million fans in 38 countries. Maiden’s other members — founder-bassist Steve Harris, drummer Nicko McBrain, and guitarists Dave Murray, Adrian Smith and Janick Gers — took a monthslong break with plans to begin work later this year on a new album due out in 2010.
But Dickinson quickly returned to his day job as a commercial airline captain for Astraeus, which leases planes to other airlines. He’s been making regular runs to such far-flung locales as Kyrgyzstan, Sierra Leone and Djibouti.
It’s not as if the 51-year-old Dickinson needs his pilot’s salary. Iron Maiden remains one of the most enduring and successful heavy metal bands with record sales of more than 70 million since their 1980 debut album.
But Dickinson finds that being in the cockpit offers a welcome respite from the frenzied life of a touring rock star.
“Music always follows you around. especially when you’re on tour … and I think that comes out on the DVD,” said Dickinson, speaking by telephone from his London home. “There’s no escaping the fury that surrounds Iron Maiden in these places and we are essentially prisoners in our hotel rooms unless we want to go out and cause a riot. …
“But as a pilot one of the nice things is that you get to shut the door,” he said with a laugh. “It’s just you, the airplane and the sky and going where you’re going and it’s quite pleasant. It’s quite a nice little Zen moment.”
Astraeus Chief Executive Mario Fulgoni credits Dickinson for “possessing both a high degree of professionalism and intense enthusiasm for flying.”
“His rock star status in no way detracts from his performance as an airline captain,” Fulgoni said.
Dickinson said his passengers, who recently included the president of Sierra Leone, rarely make the connection with his rock star persona. It’s hard to imagine that the pilot who reassuringly talks about a little turbulence is the singer whose screaming on songs like “Bring Your Daughter … to the Slaughter” earned him the nickname “The Air-Raid Siren.”
Dickinson’s passion for aviation goes back to childhood. His godfather and uncle were engineers in the Royal Air Force, and he’d attend air shows and build model airplanes. But Dickinson became enamored with rock as a teenager and began singing with the first wave of British metal bands in the late ’70s, eventually joining Iron Maiden in 1981.
Dickinson — who had left Maiden in 1993 to pursue a solo career before rejoining the band in 1999 — began taking flying lessons in the early ’90s while on a family vacation in Florida, going on to earn his private pilot’s license and a license to fly commercial jets.
Dickinson landed a pilot’s job with British World Airlines in 2000, and when it folded after 9/11, signed on with the newly formed Astraeus. He continued to fly even though Maiden has enjoyed a resurgence, releasing new albums such as “A Matter of Life and Death” (2006) and putting their old hits on video games like “Rock Band” that have attracted a new generation of fans. On their latest tour, Maiden revisited highlights from their ’80s albums so their young fans could hear them performed live.
“We love what we do and we’ve never compromised with the demands of media industry or musical fashion,” Dickinson said.
Dickinson does see a link in the precise teamwork required to get a plane to its destination or to pull off an intricately staged rock show.
“Obviously as a pilot … everything seems to be in control,” said Dickinson. “But people look at rock musicians and think they’re wild and crazy and it’s all out of control up there. … But you have to be very disciplined to do what we do in Iron Maiden … It just looks like it’s crazy.”
From the Associated Press.