Robert ReidLonely Planet author
What do you do in your spare time when you front the world’s greatest heavy metal band? Well, if you’re Iron Maiden singer Bruce Dickinson, you get another job – or two.
For the past decade Dickinson has flown jet planes for British charter Astraeus, written a couple books and placed seventh in fencing in Britain.
This summer he’s splitting his time between concerts and flying Iceland Express routes on the ‘Ed Force One’ – Iron Maiden’s infamous jet (as seen in the irresistible rock-doc Flight 666). In fact, the morning after I met him on a Newark-Reykjavik flight, he was due in a few hours in Basel for a Maiden show.
The guy doesn’t stop. But I managed to get him to sit still long enough for this Q&A (and video above) for this month’s official ‘great traveler.’
LP: Why in the world does a guy selling 85 million records bother with a job as a commercial pilot?
BD: I wanted to try to get my hands on something a little bigger than my little twin-engine, piston-engine airplane, and sadly I can’t afford to get my own airport and jumbo like John Travolta, so I thought I’m going to have to get a job. I thought I’d get some sort of job flying cargo, I never expected flying on an airline. But ten years ago, I did. And been flying long enough, they gave me my fourth stripe, and I’m sitting here as a captain.
LP: What do you like about being a jet pilot?
BD: You’re in an alien place, kept alive by this little cocoon of aluminum, piston engine and fuel. It’s a mechanical beast you have to look after, and sometimes you think ‘I shouldn’t be here! This is just some kind of miracle.’ And I still get that same buzz every time I go near a plane.
We have some awful mornings we have to do as pilots. You drag yourself out of bed at one o’clock in the morning, when no decent person is awake. It’s freezing cold, and everything’s covered in frost. And then there it is! A hundred tons of big shiny aluminum tube, with two great huge engines on it. And someone’s given it to you for the day.
I just think it’s a huge privilege. And I never get tired of pinching myself and going ‘that’s pretty cool.’
LP: Any comparisons with flying and singing for Iron Maiden?
BD: When I’m flying, I don’t often get the luxury of putting my feet up and just daydreaming awhile. Because there’s just always something to do. Strangely it’s same for me being in front of a hundred thousand people. I run on stage, I got two hours. And I got a lot of stuff to do. I got 30 pages of lyrics flicking through my head, and juggling with the crowd. You don’t really have much time to stand there and go, ‘wow, isn’t this cool?’ It’s only afterwards.
LP: What are some things you’ve seen flying you do think about afterwards?
BD: Seeing the earth’s shadow. Flying along the cusp of day and night. As you’re flying, it’s slowly enveloping the plane. And you’re actually flying along the line where the sun’s rising and setting. And you can go, ‘down there they’re still in night, down there it’s daylight.’ Day/night: it’s such a primordial thing. To be above it all is quite mind-boggling.
LP: Do you have any dream trips you’ve not done?
BD: I’ve never been a beach sort of a guy. I would love to take one of the great railway trips. Trans-Siberian Express. Take a steamer. Things from the Golden Age of travel, the Victorian age of travel, that appeals to me a lot (even though I whiz everywhere in a jet)… Just a ship that goes slowly, takes you to your destination. Therefore you figure out things to do. Like, I don’t know, find about birds or write a book.
It’s almost a luxury now to be able to travel slowly.
LP: You travel nonstop. You must know the secret to beating jetlag?
BD: I don’t know! I acknowledge jet lag, then I ignore it. It works for me.
Thanks to Bruce, Iceland Express and Tulsa’s Bozack for the music. And remember these key words on Flying 101 from the Maiden classic ‘Aces High’:
Jump in the cockpit and start up the engines
Remove all the wheelblocks, there’s no time to waste
Gathering speed as we head down the runway
Gotta get airborne before it’s too late