Before Iron Maiden’s Bruce Dickinson took to the stage in front of thousands of screaming fans at a sold out Toronto show Saturday night, he was soaring over Hamilton in the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum’s prized Lancaster Bomber.
The storied aircraft, nicknamed Vera because of its VRA flight initials, holds a special place in the heart of the banshee-throated singer, said museum CEO and pilot David Rohrer.
“The first model airplane he ever built as a young lad was a Lancaster,” Rohrer told CBC News.
The museum invited Dickinson to its facility next to the Hamilton airport knowing that he is a massive aviation and history buff. The singer is one of the most iconic in all of heavy metal — but he also spends plenty of time in the cockpit.
In fact, Dickinson is flying the band around the world on its current Book of Souls world tour. He’s piloting the private 747 aircraft called “Ed Force One,” which is named after the band’s undead mascot, Eddie.
The tour has seen him flying across the globe to around 35 different countries, including stops in Canada, the United States, Central and South America, China, Australia, Asia, Africa and Europe. The band is hitting every continent except Antarctica, according to Cardiff Aviation, Dickinson’s airline business.
The singer told Wales Online earlier this year that the thrill of flying feels totally different than the thrill of being onstage.
“The satisfaction flying airplanes is getting the job done, but the satisfaction with playing live is external, looking out at all the people looking at you,” he said. “With an airliner, it’s all internal. If you’ve got passengers, nobody goes, ‘wow, wasn’t that great.’ They’re thinking about the rest of their day. Your job as an airline pilot is to deliver them safely and be invisible.”
Iron Maiden’s music has long acted like mini-history lessons for tons of metalheads the world over. International hits include songs like Aces High — which is about British RAF pilot fighting against the German Luftwaffe during the Battle of Britain in 1940 — and The Trooper, based on the Charge of the Light Brigade at the Battle of Balaclava in 1854.
Hamilton’s 1940s-era bomber is one of only two left flying in the world. It was built at Victory Aircraft in Malton, Ont., in 1945. It was used to train air crews and later for coastal patrols and search and rescue work, before being retired in 1963.
The Warplane Heritage Museum bought it in 1977 for about $10,000. A team of volunteers led by Royal Navy aeronautical builder Norm Etheridge spent 11 years restoring the bomber. It returned to the air on Sept. 24, 1988.
Rohrer said that Dickson spent the better part of the day at the museum, talking aviation and signing autographs for fans.
“He was just unbelievable. So nice,” Rohrer said. “You could really see how much he appreciated the planes.”
And how did Dickinson ensure he’d be back in time for showtime given gridlocked traffic heading back into Toronto?
Easy. He flew a friend’s small Cessna 172 back to Toronto Island to be back in time to jump onstage at the Budweiser Stage near the water.
“What a truly interesting guy,” Rohrer said.