Vince Neil and PBS may seem like unlikely collaborators, but the two have joined forces for a few episodes of television that come with sky-high expectations. PBS’ The Aviators – the Anthony Nalli-hosted docuseries that provides a behind-the-scenes look at airplanes and the people who fly, build, and otherwise obsess over them – is chronicling the journey of the 51-year-old Mötley Crüe frontman as he sets out to earn his pilot’s license. (Check local listings for air dates.)
His televised education won’t be completed at the conclusion of the second episode, though. EW has learned that Neil has signed a deal with FourPoints Television, which produces The Aviators, to star in a reality series that will follow him through the final stages of realizing his dream. (No network is attached yet.) Titled Vince Neil… Escapes, the travel adventure series will tag along with Neil as he works with a flight instructor, attempts to overcome obstacles with the FAA (Neil has two DUIs on his record, including one that resulted in a fatal accident), and jets off to hot spots in North America and the Caribbean. “It’s not about having a reality show,” says Neil. “But if it’s going to keep me flying, and I am basically getting paid to get better as a pilot, then absolutely! I’ll have that sea plane going to the Caribbean sooner than I thought.”
Below, Neil recounts his experience of learning to navigate a single-engine propeller plane on The Aviators.
“I’ve been so busy with Mötley Crüe, but there was a break in our schedule and the offer came in from Sennheiser, my microphone company, who [is a sponsor of] The Aviators, to do something like this. I’d sat in the cockpit of a fixed-wing plane and flew it before but never actually taken off, landed, talked to the tower, going through all the motions of being a real pilot. It was a chance I couldn’t pass up…
They gave me a website to learn to fly. They take you step-by-step, and you have to pass each class before you go onto the next one. The first day [with a live instructor, Cholena Parkhurst] was hands-on. She gave me the checklist of the plane, showed me around. Each plane has its own checklist you have to go through. I did it. I taxied out and started flying. I figured I’d be in the classroom for a week before I was in the airplane. But she said, ‘The best way you’re going to learn if you actually fly.’ Within about an hour I was up in the air.
I thought [taking off] was going to be pretty easy: You hit the gas and you go down the runway and you take off and you pull back on the stick. Absolutely not. It was like, ‘Wow, this is a lot harder than I thought.’ Because the rotation of the engine, the plane wants to go one way, and you have to give it a right paddle, and if you don’t give it enough, the plane wants to go the other way. You’re trying to keep it down the center of the runway. I was just all over the place. After that, the takeoffs were getting better and better.
It’s a little hairy up there. But it’s fun. It felt really comfortable up there. The responsibility of it is a little overwhelming, but once you get up in the air, you’re just flying. You’re not thinking of anything else. No problems in the world anymore…. The only thing I was afraid of was actually talking to other pilots on the radio and talking to the towers because I didn’t want to look like an idiot. I just didn’t want to embarrass myself by saying the wrong thing. The thing is, I’ve been in rock ‘n’ roll for so many years, my ears are pretty shot. I don’t hear very well. So when the tower’s talking to me, I don’t want to miss what they’re saying. I don’t want to keep saying, ‘Uh, what you’d say? Huh?’ I want to make sure I got it right. I want to have that pilot voice: [in smooth, deep voice] ‘Ladies and gentlemen, we’ll be landing in 15 minutes.’ All those pilots have those voices, just like when you go to a strip club, all those strip club guys are: ‘Hey, next up is Raven!…’ They all sound the same.
I was never really scared up there. I think the closest call was my first landing. She goes, ‘Okay, you’re landing it.’ I’m like, ‘Are you serious? I don’t know if I’m ready yet.” She goes, ‘You can do it! We’ve done it a bunch of times already. Just line it up and you can feel it.’ So the first landing I came down pretty hard. And the wheel in the front is a free wheel, kind of like a shopping cart wheel. It doesn’t do anything. But if you land and you go down on the wheel, you could go anywhere. I always kept forgetting to stay back on the stick, and I put the front end down too fast. So that was a little scary. But just like anything, the more you practice, the better you get.
My plan is to fly me and my friends around where we need to go out here in Vegas. But in the long run, when the Mötley thing comes to an end, I want to retire in the Bahamas, get a sea plane, and have some fun.”
Check out some highlights from Neil’s Aviators adventure: