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Bruce Dickinson, singer for Iron Maiden, signs an autograph for Staff Sgt. Thomas Barriere of the 100th Operational Support Squadron on Monday at RAF Mildenhall, England. Dickinson, who is a commercial pilot, flew a refueling mission later in the day on a KC-135 Stratotanker. He is filming a series on classic aircraft for the Discovery Channel.
Bruce Dickinson, singer for Iron Maiden, signs an autograph for Staff Sgt. Thomas Barriere of the 100th Operational Support Squadron on Monday at RAF Mildenhall, England. Dickinson, who is a commercial pilot, flew a refueling mission later in the day on a KC-135 Stratotanker. He is filming a series on classic aircraft for the Discovery Channel. (Ron Jensen / S&S)

RAF MILDENHALL, England — A passenger on one of the 100th Air Refueling Wing’s flights Monday afternoon was a commercial airline pilot.

But Bruce Dickinson is better known as the front man for Iron Maiden, one of the most successful and influential heavy metal bands in the business.

“When I was a kid, I had my own air force of plastic aircraft that I built,” Dickinson said before the afternoon flight.

But it was not until 13 years ago that he climbed in the cockpit and flew an airplane.

“When I did, I felt so stupid that I hadn’t done it before,” he said. “The farther from Earth I got, the happier I was.”

It may seem an odd combination of careers. On one hand, Dickinson is the manic singer of a heavy metal rock band. On the other, he is a cool, calm pilot of Boeing 757s for Astraeus, a British charter airline.

He was at Mildenhall to film part of a series he is hosting for the Discovery Channel called “Flying Heavy Metal.” The series will feature classic aircraft, such as the KC-135 Stratotanker. It is due to air on European television next year.

Except for his hair, which is only slightly outside of regulations, Dickinson looked like a pilot in his flight suit Monday when he greeted a roomful of fans who asked him to sign photos, CDs, a guitar, T-shirts and even a $10 bill.

“My brother had the ‘Seventh Son of a Seventh Son’ tape,” said Staff Sgt. Thomas Barriere of the 100th Operational Support Squadron, referring to an early album released when Barriere was only 13. “I wore it out.”

“I think it’s just awesome music,” said Staff Sgt. J.C. Berry of the 100th Logistics Readiness Squadron.

Dickinson signed his name, personalizing the signature when asked, and posed for photos with an easy patience, answering questions about upcoming tours and albums, shaking hands and thanking everyone for their interest.

“This will be the first time I’ve flown in a U.S. military plane,” he said, adding that the KC-135 has an important military heritage that makes it appropriate for the series.

Flying, he said, is “a world that is internal and external at the same time.”

The internal, he said, includes the instruments and the flight plan and the mechanics of the aircraft. The external is the weather, the sky and the rest of the world.

He said it is not so different from being on stage in front of a crowd, where the performance is the external result of the internal process of composing the music.

Most of his fans know he is a pilot, so there is rarely any surprise when the two careers are discussed. And he’s not alone in his dual pursuits, either.

“I meet a lot of pilots who are also musicians,” he said.

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