No band has embraced the friendly skies quite like Iron Maiden. They’ve chartered three commercial airliners over the years – each one piloted by singer Bruce Dickinson – in an effort to perform for fans all over the world.
The aviation antics began in 2008. Dickinson, who had earned his pilot’s license and various credentials during his ‘90s break from the group, became a captain for charter airline Astraeus. Iron Maiden had envisioned a tour that would take them to faraway locales, where passionate fan bases had never seen the metal legends. When “the bean counters” told the group that costs and logistics would render such a tour virtually impossible, Dickinson suggested a streamlined approach.
“Being an aviation bloke, I thought to myself, ‘If you just chucked everything into one airplane, you could do an almost European-type itinerary, but an on intercontinental basis,’” he explained to Rolling Stone.
His idea was put into motion. Rather than paying for the band, tour crew and stage production to be moved separately all over the globe, the band would book a chartered airliner capable of carrying everyone all at once.
“When we finally got approval, I thought to myself, ‘Oh, my God, what have I done now?’ ” Dickinson admitted. “This is all going to be my fault if it all goes terribly wrong.”
The band selected a Boeing 757 from Astraeus’ fleet and adjusted it to accommodate all of its needs. “When you’re going around the world and you’re trying to combine passenger and freight on the same plane on that level, it’s very very hard,” tour manager Ian Day explained in the documentary Iron Maiden: Flight 666. “We had to get the engineers involved to make sure the plane could stand that stress of flying with that much freight in the back.”
A custom wrap would feature the band’s mascot, Eddie, on the tail, while the group’s name adorned the front part of the plane. After holding an online naming contest with their fans, Iron Maiden officially called the plane Ed Force One.
For the Somewhere Back in Time world tour, which ran from February 2008 to April 2009, the band took Ed Force One to four continents, which included stops in Australia, India and Japan, as well as an extensive trek through South America. When Maiden embarked on their Final Frontier world tour in 2011, they’d planned to use the same plane. But a last-minute change led the group to use one of Astraeus’ other 757s.
The vessel was once again given a custom paint job, this time reflecting the 2010 album The Final Frontier. The tour saw Iron Maiden perform more than 100 shows across 39 countries. A performance filmed in Santiago, Chile, would be released in 2012 as the live CD and DVD En Vivo!.
Iron Maiden again took to the skies in 2016, this time for their Book of Souls world tour. The band decided to upgrade for this trek, opting for the larger 747 airplane. Their particular airliner had originally been used as a commercial passenger aircraft for Air France, before charter company Air Atlanta Icelandic purchased it. Because Astraeus had ceased operations by this point, Maiden decided to enlist Air Atlanta Icelandic for their aviation needs.
The 747 boasted several differences from previous incarnations of Ed Force One. Most notably, the airliner featured a double-decker layout, offering further space for the band. The extra cargo capacity also came in handy since the Book of Souls tour included some of the most elaborate staging of the band’s career.
In addition to receiving an Iron Maiden exterior makeover, Simple Flying reported that the 747’s seats were “re-trimmed in an all-black cloth, complete with branded headrest covers for the crew members that flew with Iron Maiden on the tour. Even the contracted crew had smart-branded Ed Force One neck scarves for the flights.”
On March 13, 2016, Ed Force One suffered damage when it collided with a tow truck on the Santiago International Airport tarmac. The band was not on board at the time, though two airport employees were injured during the accident. After two days of repairs, the aircraft was ready to once again resume flight.
So where are these planes now? The first Ed Force One would be leased to Saudi Arabian Airlines and Thomas Cook Airlines. When Astraeus went under in late 2011, the charter company sold the plane to FedEx, which continues to use it as a cargo plane to this day.
The second Ed Force One was retired shortly after the band’s use. In 2012, the aircraft was stored in Phoenix, where it was eventually dismantled for parts.
The third Ed Force One was returned to its Icelandic charter company following the conclusion of the Book of Souls world tour in 2017. The carrier kept the Iron Maiden paint job on for some time, even transporting 350 Icelandic soccer fans to a match against Hungary with the ominous exterior. It has since gotten a new paint job and been leased to Saudi Arabian Airlines, which continues to use the plane as part of its regular fleet.
You can check out a pictorial history of Ed Force One below.