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Iron Maiden frontman enjoys day job as pilot
NEW YORK (AP) — Bruce Dickinson likes to fly some heavy metal — about 240,000 pounds (109,000 kilograms) of it — when he's not performing as Iron Maiden's frontman.
On the band's 2008-9 "Somewhere Back In Time World Tour" — showcased on the new DVD " Flight 666" which was voted Best Music Documentary at this year's South-by-Southwest Festival — Dickinson pulled double duty as lead singer and the chief pilot on the band's customized Boeing 757.
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 — donning a red 19th-century British army tunic while singing "The Trooper" or a feathered mask for "Powerslave."
After the shows, as the band's "designated driver," he had to refrain from late-night carousing, turning in early and avoiding any drinking in order 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 legendary British heavy metal band — which earlier this year won a Brit Award for Best Live Act — wrapped up its tour in early April after performing before nearly 2 million fans in 38 countries. Maiden's other members — founder and bassist Steve Harris, drummer Nicko McBrain, and guitarists Dave Murray, Adrian Smith and Janick Gers — scattered to their homes for a months-long break with plans to regroup later this year to begin work 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 airplanes and crews to other airlines. He has been making regular passenger runs to such far-flung locales as Kyrgyzstan, Sierra Leone and Djibouti.
It's not as if the 51-year-old Dickinson, who has written two novels and hosts rock programs on BBC Radio, 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 of a 757 offers a welcome respite from the frenzied life of a touring rock star.
"It's just you, the airplane and the sky and going where you're going and it's quite pleasant," he said. "It's quite a nice little Zen moment."
Dickinson earns high marks from Astraeus' Chief Executive Mario Fulgoni, who is also a commercial airline captain, for "possessing both a high degree of professionalism and intense enthusiasm for flying."
"That he has other careers is irrelevant to his capability as a pilot and his rock star status in no way detracts from his performance as an airline captain," Fulgoni said in an e-mail message.
Dickinson, who no longer sports the shoulder-length hair of his younger days, says that 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 matter-of-factly goes through the safety regulations or reassures passengers about some turbulence is the singer whose screaming vocals on songs like "Bring Your Daughter ... to the Slaughter" earned him the nickname "The Air-Raid Siren."
Dickinson, who hosted the aviation series "Flying Heavy Metal" for Discovery Channel (U.K.), says his passion for flight goes back to his childhood, His godfather and uncle were both engineers in the Royal Air Force, and he'd regularly attend air shows and decorate his room with squadrons of plastic model airplanes.
But Dickinson put his dreams of flying on hold when he became enamored with rock as a teenager and began singing with the first wave of British heavy metal bands in the late '70s, performing with Samson before joining Iron Maiden in 1981.
Dickinson began his pilot training in the early '90s at a Florida airport while on a family vacation. With the same determination that made him a Top 10-ranked British fencer in the 1980s, Dickinson passed his private pilot's license test and obtained a license to fly commercial jets.
"I was genuinely doing it as an alternative career in case music all fell on his head," said Dickinson, who had left Maiden in 1993 to pursue a solo career before rejoining the band in 1999.
Dickinson landed an entry pilot's job with British World Airlines in 2000, and when that airline folded after Sept. 11, 2001, signed on with the newly formed Astraeus.
Dickinson has kept flying with Astraeus even though Maiden has enjoyed a recent resurgence, releasing new albums such as "A Matter of Life and Death" (2006) as well as its older hits on video games like "Rock Band" that have attracted a new generation of young fans to go along with their older audience who've been into the band since the '80s.
On their latest tour, Maiden decided to revisit some of their hits from their '80s albums — including "The Number of the Beast," ''Powerslave" and "Somewhere In Time" — 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," said Dickinson. "We've always plowed our own somewhat eccentric and stubborn furrow and there's obviously a lot of people that respect that. ...
"Iron Maiden is ultimately all about the fans and that's what makes the 'Flight 666' documentary great for me. ... It's not about the egos of the band ... or to bolster our self-importance."
For the tour, Dickinson helped design and modify the band's leased plane, giving it fewer passenger seats and enough cargo space to carry 12 tons of equipment. That gave the band the mobility to cover more ground in less time — avoiding costly layovers and making it economically feasible to perform in such countries as Costa Rica for the first time and reach fans in remote locales like Manaus, Brazil's Amazon regionalcapital. Astaeus now offers the design to other customers.
The plane — dubbed "Ed Force One" — was decorated with the band's logo along the side. However, Astraeus ended up painting over the Iron Maiden decorations between legs of the tour after some passengers in Ghana balked at boarding a plane with the band's grinning zombie mascot "Eddie" on the tail fin fearing it was haunted, Dickinson said.
Dickinson does see a link in the precise teamwork required to get a plane to its destination and to pull off an intricately staged arena rock show.
"Obviously as a pilot ... everything seems to be in control," said Dickinson. "And people look at rock musicians and think, yeah, they're wild and crazy and it's all out of control up there and backstage must be a war zone full of groupies and drugs. ...
"But you have to be very disciplined to do what we do in Iron Maiden and you can't survive for a career as long as ours without having some serious degree of dedication. It's not all madness and ... the only way that we can allow ourselves to do what we do to our bodies on stage every night is actually to be fairly in control of what we are doing. It just looks like it's crazy."
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