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War Machines: What to expect from Iron Maiden's dogfight at Sonisphere

This Saturday Iron Maiden will make history at Knebworth as they stage an aerial dogfight over Sonisphere before their headline set – with Bruce Dickinson flying one of the planes! We spoke to one of the pilots Gordon Brander about what's taking to the skies...

Hi Gordon! What exactly is your role?

“We are the Great War Display Team, which is nine First World War airplanes and I’m the team leader I suppose.”

How did you meet Bruce Dickinson?

“Well as you know Bruce has a pilot licence and started flying 757s for Astraeus, which is a charter outfit. And in his spare time he bought a share in a vintage German biplane from 1936, which is pretty much the equivalent of an E-Type Jaguar. So I taught him to fly that and we went from there, really.”

Would you say he’s a good pilot?

“Considering he’s got so many things going on he’s got an amazing amount of energy and so many balls in the air at the same time, but all that being considered he’s very very sharp and picked it up very quickly.”

What can we expect from Knebworth?

“We’ve got eight or nine airplanes. It depends on how much room we have to manoeuvre as there’s going to be a huge crowd there with big stages, so it has to be safe, but basically we do it all the time so hopefully once the whole thing is planned out we can work it. We’ve got nine airplanes – four German and five British – and we end up having a dogfight. It’s all quite close to the crowd, it’s 800ft down to about 200ft, and they’ve all got smoke systems so when you get shot down you let out a blast of smoke! It’s good fun!”/o:p

How long does it take to choreograph something like this?

“We’ve been together quite a long time, Bruce has recently got involved ‘cause he bought a Fokker tri-plane and he’s now fully trained to do the display type flying which is a bit more demanding as it’s up to nine airplanes in a tight space and pretty close to the ground.”

How dangerous is it?

“Display flying in itself has an inherent risk factor. And the planes we fly are very primitive machines – the thing I fly doesn’t have brakes or steering or anything, the only control you have is the throttle! And the thing Bruce has bought is very similar. They’re very temperamental; they’ll bite you if you get in the wrong position.”

Are you an Iron Maiden fan?

“I have to say I’ve got two sons who are round about 30 and they’re absolutely besotted by it, they think it’s fantastic. My middle son Neil has been to just about every Iron Maiden concert he could get to. And Bruce with his flying interest, quite a few of the songs are about airplanes and flying. I think the display at Knebworth will be soundtracked by one of their songs as well.”

You can find out more about the dogfight from Bruce himself in the new issue of Hammer (opens in new tab). And you catch it for real this Saturday at Sonisphere.

Luke Morton