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Bright lights and dizzying heights: when fame meets aviation

by Charlotte Branson BALPA Communications Officer

We know that many of our members have skills outside of flying. Indeed, due to the now eye-watering cost of training we are seeing more and more pilots joining the profession after years spent in other careers. Our membership boasts former doctors, lawyers and police officers, to name just a few careers. But for some, being a pilot is secondary to the day job. There are many famous actors, musicians and entertainers who, despite their day job, also have a passion for flying and are keen aviators in their spare time. Some well-known examples include actor John Travolta, or TV personality Carol Vordeman, but there are lots of other famous people who also regularly take to the skies that you may not have realised. Here are just a few below.

Tom Cruise: day job – Hollywood actor

The Mission: Impossible star is known for doing his own stunts. This has led him to take on daredevil stunts such as dangling from rocks of almost 6,000ft and hurtling through streets at terrifying speeds in car chases. Cruise is also no stranger to aviation, having held a pilot’s licence since he was inspired by his role in Top Gun, but for one of his latest roles in Mission: Impossible – Fallout, he also learnt to fly a helicopter in order to perform a stunt. The scene sees his character perform a corkscrew turn in an Airbus helicopter, while surrounded by 13 other helicopters also performing aerobatics – not a stunt that even the most seasoned pilots might feel comfortable taking on.

Willem-Alexander: day job – King of the Netherlands

Willem-Alexander is the current King of the Netherlands and while it was well-known he once flew for the Royal Netherlands Air Force, what we didn’t know until last year was that he had also been a commercial pilot for KLM. King Willem revealed he had served as a co-pilot for 21 years, flying Cityhopper’s Fokker 70s twice a month, even after his ascension to the throne. With KLM’s phased retirement of the Fokker 70, he began training to fly Boeing 737s. Willem-Alexander was rarely recognised while in the KLM uniform and wearing the KLM cap and never gave his name, only welcoming passengers on behalf of the captain and crew.

Bruce Dickinson: day job – lead singer of Iron Maiden

Iron Maiden frontman and all-round rock legend Bruce Dickinson is also a qualified commercial pilot and has previously flown the band on tour, as well as a stint as a captain for UK charter airline Astraeus. In 2011 he also launched Cardiff Aviation Ltd, which offers aircraft maintenance and repairs, as well as pilot training. In fact, Dickinson’s achievements in aviation are so far reaching, it’s difficult to confine it all to just one paragraph. However, if you’re interested, in 2011 he also worked with the CAA on this instructional video on aircraft safety loading – very rock ‘n’ roll.

Gisele Bundchen: day job – supermodel

The Brazilian model might be better known as one of the highest paid models in the world, and during her career has modelled for many of the top designers, including Alexander McQueen, Versace and Dolce & Gabbana, however, what is less-known is that Gisele also holds a pilot’s licence. As a goodwill ambassador for the UN, Gisele because interested in environmental issues, which included looking at alternative, more sustainable sources of jet fuel. Her interest in aviation was piqued, and, in 2009, while pregnant, she learnt to fly a helicopter. She had to take a short break when in the late stages of pregnancy but returned after her son’s birth to pass her test with flying colours.

Dexter Holland: day job – lead singer and guitarist of The Offspring

Singer and guitarist in punk rock band, The Offspring, Bryan Keith ‘Dexter’ Holland, is better known for creating popular tracks such as ‘The Kids Aren’t Alright’ and ‘Pretty Fly for a White Guy’. However, Dexter has a number of other hidden talents. He has a master’s degree in molecular biology, also going on to a PhD, which he never finished due to the success of The Offspring. He also has a pilot’s licence and owns his own private jet named ‘Anarchy Airline’ and is a certified flight instructor – not only this but he also once made a solo trip around the world in ten days.