Air to Air with Ed Force One

It’s 19h30 on last Wednesday evening, I’m sitting at home, having my supper and I can hear my phone ringing in my study…I ignore it. Three calls later I figure I’ll see what the urgency is.
It’s Roger Machin from Canon and I knew they were in town for the Canon Roadshow so I figured he just wanted to say “hi”…
I answer the phone and Roger immediately tells me that music photographer David Devo Oosthuizen is trying to get hold of me. “He’s at the Iron Maiden concert in Cape Town and he’s with the band now…Bruce Dickinson wants to do an air to air shoot with Ed Force One…”
The words don’t quite register and I answer…”Yeah right”. But I eventually figure that he’s got the story wrong and David has organised that I can go and shoot the 747 on the apron or something along those lines…

I call David back immediately and as it turns out Bruce Dickinson, lead singer of Iron Maiden and airline pilot, wants to attempt an air to air shoot of Ed Force one over Cape Town on Friday as they depart for Johannesburg. “Can I organise it?”
I immediately call Andre Groenewald, the Chief Flying Instructor at Cape Town flight Training Centre. Andre has access to a Piper Seneca ll that the owners are willing to hire out as a cameraship… i.e. let me take the doors off. Andre at first says he has a wedding rehearsal on Friday as he’s getting married the following week. “So you can’t do the air to air shoot of Ed Force One?” I ask.
Andre’s schedule suddenly cleared up.

I quickly whipped together a quote and told David I can only plan this properly the following morning. I had barely opened my eyes and David was on the phone was a list of demands. I need to call Dave Shacks, Iron Maiden’s manager, and arrange the briefing. I also had to get authorization for the shoot from Air Charter Service in the UK as they were responsible for the aircraft while on tour.
I immediately got hold of James Cristofoli, who was quite happy once I had shared with him how we were going to attempt the shoot. It was now up to Air Atlanta Icelandic, the owners of the aircraft, to authorize the shoot. They would no doubt have a list of demands regarding proximity to the aircraft, altitudes, etc.
In the meantime I had Andre Groenewald organising the plane, the AMO to remove the door, and getting hold of ATNS to authorize the CAMU request for the photoshoot. A process that normally takes 48 hours…I had less than 24…
Now it was a waiting game. By 16h00 I had not heard from either Air Atlanta Icelandic or ATNS. I called the band manager and suggested we carry out the briefing anyway as we would not have time the following day. It was agreed that we would meet at the band’s hotel at 18h30 for a briefing and a beer. I started the drive to the Waterfront in rush hour traffic, praying all the way that by some miracle this would all come off.
An hour before the briefing was due to start I got the email that the shoot had been authorised by Atlanta.
I arrived at the hotel and now I wasn’t sure if I was more excited about the shoot or meeting Bruce Dickinson. The briefing went well and we all agreed the biggest issue was going to be the speed difference. Full up and clean, the 747 stalls at around 240 knots, we were restricted to 130 knots with the door off. Due to the wake that this this monster was going to be churning out at said low speeds, Bruce was not happy about us getting too close and anywhere behind them. We figured we would set up the shot and have them pass us….and hope for the best.
Not how I’m used to shooting air to air so I knew this was going to be the most challenging shoot I had ever undertaken and time was not on my side.

Once the briefing was over, it was time to relax with a drink and chat to Bruce about aviation. We spoke for hours about everything from his flight school to his Fokker DR1.
The 57 year old Bruce Dickinson has quite a resume. Apart from being the frontman for the biggest metal band in history, he has a PhD in music, he’s a writer, screenwriter, Radio Broadcaster, professor of history, director of marketing, founder of Cardiff Aviation and is an Olympic fencer…Last year he beat Cancer.

On my way through to Stellenbosch the next morning, the email came through from ATNS with the flight plan reference number for the shoot…I quickly forwarded that through to the airline for the flight plan.
This was actually happening.
Due to missing flight documents and one or two normal issues, there was an almost one hour delay in the departure. We got airborne and after the first orbit around Table Bay I knew this was going to be a lot harder than we had planned. But once again, great pilots, the willingness of everybody working together and a whole lot of determination we got we came for.

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  • Winston - Hi Justin,

    The photo of Ed Force one with Cape Town in the distance is my photo of tbe year for 2016.

    Just an absolutely incredible image.December 19, 2016 – 12:22ReplyCancel

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