Iron Maiden is coming to get ya!
Iron Maiden’s touring B747 attracted much attention at Cardiff during preparation for The Book of Souls World Tour, but after substantial damage in South America it might not make it here.
British heavy metal rock band Iron Maiden is currently touring the world, travelling aboard a specially decorated Boeing 747-400 colloquially named “Ed Force One”, decorated with band symbology and iconography from its latest album The Book of Souls.
Owned by Air Atlanta Icelandic, B747-428 TK-AAK has been appropriated by Iron Maiden to carry the band, crew and all equipment required to put on a stage show in some 36 countries around the world.
What’s more, the aircraft captain during its mammoth journey is none other than the band’s lead singer, Bruce Dickinson, holder of an ATPL and former B757 captain with now defunct British charter airline Astraeus. He has a passion for aviation and, aside from being the distinctive voice of one of the world’s most successful rock bands, is also chairman of Cardiff Aviation, an MRO (maintenance, repair and overhaul) and simulator training facility at Cardiff Airport, formerly RAF St Athan.
To complement his business and music ventures, Dickinson and his Fokker Dr I are members of The Great War Display Team, a collection of like-minded individuals with flying reproduction WWI aircraft they display at UK air events.
Ed Force One is named after the band’s long time mascot Eddie, which graces the covers of Iron Maiden’s albums and makes his presence felt on stage during its performances in giant robotic form. The reference to the United States presidential jet is obvious.
The original Ed Force One was a B757 operated by Astraeus, with whom Dickinson was flying at the time, which was used on the band’s two previous world tours. The decision to use a single means of transporting everything required to put on a world tour by air had, somewhat surprisingly, never been done before Iron Maiden launched its 2008–2009 21-country, year-long Somewhere Back In Time tour.
Dickinson himself lays claim to the idea of cramming everything and everyone aboard a single aircraft, after band members were concerned about not being able to get to gigs in different countries as quickly as they had hoped. Initially band members and management were sceptical and it was solely due to their charismatic lead singer’s powers of persuasion—and aviation contacts of course—that the idea came to fruition.
He later explained that although it was a great PR stunt to turn up in a personal aircraft bedecked in band motifs, the concept actually made business sense as the chartering of cargo aircraft and reliance on scheduled passenger services for the types of venues where Iron Maiden performs was extraordinarily costly, not to mention logistically challenging.
Providing the band’s own transport also offered venue opportunities in countries the band had not been able to play to in the past.
Modifying one of Astraeus’ aircraft, 757-23AER G-OJIB, to take Iron Maiden around the globe included sectioning off half the passenger cabin for cargo, strengthening the floor to take the extra weight and adding a firewall and fire protection to the cargo area. The big caveat in terms of loading the rear section was that all the equipment had to fit through a standard size passenger door since ‘OJIB was not fitted with a side opening cargo door.
The tour was enormously successful, so much so that for its next globe-trotting venture, the 30-plus-country The Final Frontier tour in 2011, Iron Maiden did it again, this time with B757-2Q8 G-STRX.
Dickinson can’t possibly be required to pilot the aircraft after a night’s performance for an entire year, so extra flight crew were naturally brought along, but in a 2008 interview with Fox News he explained the rationale behind the band’s concert schedule.
“We planned it with the earth’s rotation, so whenever we are arriving, the time changes are advantageous to our body clocks so that when we’re on stage we’re wide awake.”
Upgrading Ed Force One to a B747 was not merely a reflection of the band’s global fan base, as Dickinson stated to US based Corus Radio in September 2015: “First of all we don’t have a 757 anymore, because the airline that I worked for, for about 10 years, three-and-a-half years ago went belly-up, so the source of immediate aeroplanes dried up.
“One of the clients of our simulator centre is Air Atlanta, an Icelandic company with 17 or 18 747s, most of them [transporting] cargo in the Middle East operating with different companies.
“I was having a coffee with their flight operations director one day and asked him, ‘You don’t happen to have a spare aeroplane sitting around, do you?’ and he said, ‘Y’know, we do!’
“‘How do you fancy putting Eddie all over it and it flying for Iron Maiden for six months?’ and he went ‘Wow, that’d be so cool!’”
Dickinson also outlined the advantages behind operating the “Queen of the Skies” in place of the smaller Boeing;
“We don’t have to stop for gas anymore, we can put a whole lot more stuff in the underfloor cargo hold and we don’t have to modify it for three weeks before and for three weeks afterwards with all the extra cost …”
Kicking off The Book of Souls tour in Fort Lauderdale in Florida on the night of 24 February 2016, Ed Force One landed at Fort Lauderdale/Hollywood International Airport five days earlier amid much media fanfare. Local and national news covered the band’s arrival, with the showpiece being Ed Force One and the fact that the band’s lead vocalist flew it from the UK providing a big talking point.
A slightly dishevelled and tired looking Capt Dickinson paused for interviews on the tarmac after arrival, describing the flight as “excellent” before mocking the assembled interviewers by claiming it was the first time he had flown a real aeroplane!
However, an unfortunate incident involving a departing tow bar pin at Comodoro Arturo Merino Benitez Airport, Santiago, Chile on 12 March saw Ed Force One suffer damage to both left-hand engines and its main undercarriage and injuring ground personnel. Engineers say the damage is substantial and might require engine changes, which will leave Ed Force One grounded for the time being.
According to the band’s official website, tour dates will not be affected and a second aircraft will be put to use to continue the tour, adding that the band played to a 58,000 strong crowd at Chile’s Stadium Nacional the night before the incident, clearly illustrating the popularity of this 40-year-old heavy rock band whose members are all in their mid-50s.
The latest update on the B747 is that it is receiving engine changes and another aircraft has been seconded to replace it, although what will be used on the overseas legs was unknown at press time. In South America the band has taken to chartering a B737, naming it “Spare Force One” and causing much comment on the fan club forum, including the rather clever name “Ed Force Juan” …
Despite this major setback, with its most recent album The Book of Souls reaching no 1 in the album charts of many countries around the world, including New Zealand, Iron Maiden’s latest world tour will continue as planned, playing at the Horncastle Arena, Christchurch, on 29 April and Vector Arena, Auckland, on 1 May. Up The Irons!
- Report by Grant Newman, phototraph by Geoff Jones.
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