ED FORCE ONE.
Time Machines and Airships: Flying On Ed Force One With Iron Maiden.
I recently had the rare opportunity to fly in ‘Ed Force One’, Iron Maiden’s chartered Boeing 747-400 with lead pilot and band front man Bruce Dickinson. The heavy metal rock band is into the third month of its 47-concert ‘Book Of Souls’ global tour encompassing 36 countries and was travelling from Vancouver to Seattle when I joined the aircraft.
Flying into Seattle, Dickinson explained the choice of using a 747-400, chartered from Air Atlanta, and the benefits it provides over the 757 used on previous tours. “This is our time machine, our magic carpet,” he says. “We take off from Los Angeles, cross the dateline and land in Tokyo and the next day we can do a gig. We have got the crew, the gear and all the logistics in the same place. It’s a kind of roll on- roll off ferry that flies and because it’s a 747 we don’t have to stop for gas. We modified the stage show so we could fit it all in pallets under the belly,” he adds.
Dickinson is rated to fly a wide range of aircraft from the Fokker Triplane to the 747 (Photo: Guy Norris).
“Effectively it means we can do a European tour schedule on an inter-continental basis. We can fly these long oceanic legs, like Australia to Cape Town – or Shanghai to Auckland – and you can’t do that any other way,” says Dickinson.
Ed Force One turns heads wherever it lands (Photo: Iron Maiden).
Between gigs at the Tacoma Dome and Denver’s Pepsi Center, Dickinson flew the aircraft from Seatac to Boeing’s Everett site at Paine Field – a place it had not returned to since delivery to its original owner Air France in 2003. Before take-off from Seatle’s Seatac airport, sitting high in the imperious flight deck of the 747, Dickinson explained how the band’s newest song ‘Empire of the Clouds’ was written in homage to the designers, builders and crew of the doomed British airship R101 which crashed in France on its maiden overseas commercial flight in 1930 with the loss of 48 lives.
“It was always something I was fascinated by,” says Dickinson. “I even built a plastic model of it when I was a kid and I’m now an investor in Hybrid Air Vehicles (HAV),” he comments, referring to the British-based developer of the soon-to-fly Airlander 10 hybrid airship. The astonishing thing is we are building the HAV in the same hangar at Cardington where the R101 was constructed. I read the definitive book on the accident ‘To Ride The Storm’ by Sir Peter Masefield – and that’s the opening line of the song.”
Dickinson, who when he is not performing with Iron Maiden is chairman of Cardiff Aviation, an MRO and pilot training company based at the former RAF station at St Athan, Wales, says “I used to teach crew resource management and the whole story of the R101 is like the Titanic in many respects – it’s new technology, different procedures, fatigue, intense commercial pressure – all of these things. The song is a salute to the astonishing courage and bravery and dedication of the people that were on that ship.”
By contrast the Airlander is the first a totally different breed, he says. Dickinson relates that the late HAV designer Roger Munk once had dinner with legendary British aircraft and airship pioneer Barnes Wallis. “So the story goes, Barnes Wallis wrote on the back of a napkin – if you solve these problems the airship will take off. He listed structures, powerplant, durability, weather prediction, load carrying, ground handling and basically the Airlander does all that. I have been involved in Airlander for years. I was involved when Roger Munk was originally designing it. I put money into the company when it was a Portakabin in a field and going bankrupt every Monday.”
The Airlander 10 prototype may fly at the Farnborough Air Show (Photo credit: HAV).
“For me the amazing thing – being a romantic as well – is the idea of this incredible eco-friendly machine flying around cargo, humanitarian assistance, dropping slabs of water into the middle of Africa, evacuating people and providing heavy lift support. It is a game changer and there are not many things in aviation you can be associated with these days that are genuinely like that. We really know how this stuff works and we are the only company that’s built one and successfully flown it and it does exactly what it says on the tin.”
After a flight time of only 24 minutes, Ed Force One (as it is known after ‘Eddie’ the band’s motto), call sign ‘Charlie Charlie 666’ (for one of the band’s most famous hits ‘The Number of the Beast’) touched down at Paine Field. After taxiing in with a water cannon salute, Dickinson talked to Boeing workers and thanked some who had helped Air Atlanta restore Ed Force One to service after two engines were damaged in an unlikely accident in Chile on March 12.
One of the two badly damaged CF6-80C2 engines on the port wing (Photo: Iron Maiden).
In an unusual twist, Dickinson was introduced to the crowd by Boeing’s own Bruce Dickinson, the vice president and general manager of the company’s 747 and 767 programs. The two Dickinsons are seen by the aircraft steps with Iron Maiden’s (left) and Boeing’s (right).
( Photo: Guy Norris).
Emblazoned with Eddie on the tail and other symbols Iron Maiden’s ‘Book of Souls’ culture, Ed Force One is “the world’s biggest flying bill board,” says Dickinson. “The reaction to it everywhere it lands and everywhere we go is crazy, it’s bigger than presidential! It really is. So you have to make sure you don’t do too many ‘thumpers’ on landing because everyone is taking pictures of the blue clouds of smoke coming off the rubber!”
And who exactly is Eddie? “He’s a cross between a silver surfer and Godzilla. He will never speak, he only grunts and growls. You wouldn’t really want him as your buddy but he’s occasionally your friend – and he’s always permanently pissed off at just about everybody and everything – but in a good way,” says Dickinson. “He’s an eternal adolescent – but his heart is in the right place. But for the purposes of the tour it is not, because I actually rip it out on stage – wave it around and dunk it in what I call the sacred plant pot, pull it out and cover one of the guitarists in blood before throwing it out into the audience. That’s what I get up to. Aren’t you glad you are not flying in an aircraft with me as the captain now!?”
And for the future….will Iron Maiden someday travel to a gig in an even larger ‘flying billboard’ – the Airlander? “I couldn’t possibly comment,” grins Dickinson… (By Guy Norris in Things With Wings).
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