Mar 10 2012

“Michael Loved to Fly”

Category: Friends,MJ Quotes,Photos,Quotes About MJ,VideosSeven @ 2:50 pm

Flying is an interest that had I ever met the man, I’d have shared with Michael Jackson. I used to fly small planes (a Cessna 150 prop plane) and have been up in an ultralight, as well as at least one aerobatic aircraft (biplane) as the pilot did barrel rolls, flew upside down and performed hammerhead, and knife-edge maneuvers.

It would seem obvious that Michael loved to fly since he apparently enjoyed being high up in a cherry-picker and had his own personal balloon pilot. Who wouldn’t enjoy a balloon ride with Michael? I know I would!  As for the cherry picker, I’m not so sure about that for myself but you’ve probably seen the video of the maniacal fan who no doubt scared the bejeesus out of Michael and compromised everyone’s safety by climbing onto the cherry picker with him during one of his performances.

‎”Michael loved to fly,” says choreographer Travis Payne. “He was fascinated with birds and things that could take flight. So when he’s on his cherry picker, it’s like he’s larger than life. Like a superhero.” While aboard the contraption, which was outfitted with fans, lights and a smoke machine, “He actually gets to be closer to the audience,” says Payne.

Michael on the cherry-picker, birds-eye view

Some interesting information on the crane used for Michael’s HISTORY tour from

Michael Jackson used the crane for his performances of “Beat it” and “Earth Song”, during his 1996/97 tour. The crane, for the first time, was protruding into the audience, straight out and flat. This caused a change in the dynamics between Michael and the audience. The distance between the fans and Michael was drastically increased which means that the atmosphere at the front was a lot less than his previous tours. Michael used the crane as a walkway during the first leg of the tour, during, “The way you make me feel” and rarely during “History”, where he would walk down and wave. The walkway was also used by the dancers in “Beat it

Michael Jackson’s safety on the crane

Michael Jackson certainly performed to the maximum of his capability and obviously wasn’t overtly concerned about risk. Michael would not only hang out of the crane with his feet hooking on to the edge but during the History tour would hand out fully, just hanging from his arms and then pull himself back onto the crane.

Technically, the crane had smoke machines and lighting on the crane which, when Michael hung down could easily get hooked on – this is very apparent in shows like the Burcharest concert and shows like New Zealand where he nearly lost his shoe. They reduced the lighting covers for the second leg so that no lights, covers or piping was outside the lip of the crane platform for him to get hooked onto accidentally when he was pulling himself back on to the crane. They also added a safety piece of material to prevent any more hooking of his legs on the lights or light covers.

Safety harness?

Michael would probably never hook himself into a safety harness if he could perform without one and if we look on the crane during the tour we can see no safety harness EXCEPT on one concert – It looks like if we take a closer look at the Bucharest concert on the History tour we have some kind of arm restraint to either a) hold onto or B) for Michael to put his arm through – to prevent him from falling – either way, it was not used and was removed from the crane on later dates.

Notable incident – “Earth Song” fan intruder!

If you haven’t seen the stage intruder during this song, go and watch it here (6.20m). The question is “How did a fan get so close to Michael?”. What happened is that Michael got into the crane as he usually did, which is about 15 – 20 metres off the crowd, just as it got to it’s full height, a fan jumped over the barriers, onto the crane and right to the top of it and grabbed Michael. He then stayed up at the top of the crane with Michael until the conclusion of the section (the crane couldn’t be brought down immediately) and then he refused to let go of Michael. He had to be ripped off by security. You can read more about this incident HERE .

History tour in Brunei – No crane!

The only concert on the History tour, without use of the crane was in Brunei. The reason for this is because it was such a small audience – almost a private show of a couple of thousand people, that the area that the crane takes up, with the barriers and everything included would probably be 50% of the total audience area – so it didn’t make any sense – This concert had the audience as close as anyone could get on this tour. The area was still there, including the barriers, as if the crane were there, just a little smaller and without the crane. Another reason is that the crane, when doing it’s 360 degree revolution would go beyond the audience.

Beat it entrance – Brunei

The stage illusion from Thriller into Beat it was obviously affected by the lack of a crane, as Michael usually disappears from the contraption and appears on the crane. For this concert Michael arrived on the right hand side of the stage but on a hydraulic platform from underneath the stage, that is usually used by the dancers for “They don’t care about us” and “Thriller” – The change worked well. Michael obviously had Michael Bush remove his big black coat a lot earlier than usual and Michael also had a significant amount of time standing on stage getting the crowd going with his “hooooos!”, which is all usually done at the top of the crane.

Earth Song ending – Brunei

As the crane was missing, also was a big part of “Earth Song”. For this concert Michael performed the ending of the song as he usually has on other occasions, without the crane, just performing on the stage.

Beat it in Prague – opening night

I think that this was a great use of the crane – opening of “Beat it” – Prague opening night of the History tour. Although the beginning of the song was plagued with technical problems (ie the band messing up!), the beginning of this song had a much longer use of the crane. Michael basically performed the whole first verse of the song UP on the crane instead of, as would go on to be, on the stage. I think that this makes sense and adds to the spectacle! If you’re gonna go to that much effort to get a crane and push the audience so far back, you might as well use it! It added a little bit of variety, which the tour lacked at times.

Crane Speed and controls

It would seem that the crane is on some kind of mechanism that once it starts is easier to do a full rotation than to put it in reverse. We see this in Korea. When the intruder came on the crane the logical thing to do would be to reverse it and take it down (as it had not started it’s 360 degree rotation yet). We also see that when Michael steps off the crane early sometimes that the crane really bounces when it is paused. We obviously have some kind of delay. So, it is not easily controlled. For Beat it it goes straight up and straight down. For Earth Song it goes straight up, rotates 360 degrees, then straight down. Michael changes the time he jumps on during Earth Song from show to show which means that he ends it and jumps back off the crane at different times, altering the ending of the song. This is obviously a big piece of hydraulic machinery, unlike the Bad tour which seemed to be powered by weight transfer and balanced precisely.

The crane getting in the way?

The crane doesn’t get in the way of the show but if you looked closely you will have seen the crane being set up and taken down. For example, we have the walkway which is added to the stage which connects the stage to the arm of the crane.This walkway is then removed whenever the crane is going to be used and THEN replaced with the crane’s platform and barrier. We see, if you look closely, the crane “Barrier” is moved and rotated to the left just after the start of “Beat it” when Michael has vacates it, on the tour. This is done by his stage manager who physically lifts the frame out of the crane arm and moves it out of the way, to the left, thus giving the audience a clear view without the obstruction of the crane AND the option for Michael to walk down the platform and use the crane as a kind of stage. If you were at the front row and took your eyes off MJ for 10 seconds, you may have noticed!


At the Wetten Dass performance, Michael seems to get to the crane late. He performs the rest of the song from the crane, and one wonders if the way he hung from the crane at 5.36 and 6.02 had his insurers ready to have kittens. At around 4:00, he seems to let the cameraperson know he doesn’t like the camera in his face. This performance was before a studio audience, but screens were erected outside so that 10 – 20,000 people could watch Michael perform outside the venue as well:

Up, Up, and Away in his beautiful balloon 

In 1962, Col. Joe Kittinger became the first man in space and he wasn’t there long. He jumped out of a high-altitude balloon at 102,800 feet to became the first human to break the speed of sound without a vehicle. In 1984, he became the first person to cross the Atlantic solo in a hot air balloon. But there was a chapter left out of his legendary ballooning career. For several years, Kittinger was Michael Jackson’s private pilot.

You can watch a video of Joe Kittinger telling his story of working as Michael’s personal hot air balloon pilot here:


Michael and friends on a balloon ride

There’s a reason God made the sunset red or purple or green. It’s beautiful to look at, it’s a minute of joy…Like when I’m 40,000 feet in the air in a Jumbo Jet at night and it’s dawn. Everybody on the plane is asleep, and here I am in the cockpit with the pilots…it’s just incredible seeing a sunrise and being up there with it. Pilots tell me, “I wish there was no such thing as having to go down and re-load with fuel. I wish I could stay up here forever”…And I totally understand what they mean.

-Michael Jackson in a 1980 interview he did with Melody Maker magazine

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8 Responses to ““Michael Loved to Fly””

  1. Nino says:

    Thank you again, Seven, for every post and for all the love and work that goes into the research.
    Miss him so…

  2. Joyce says:

    Thanks Seven for this really interesting post. How incredible that you have actually flown a plane and been in a stunt plane while it did barrel rolls!! Michael was certainly smiling while you wrote that. He definitely loved anything that involved stunts, magic or a little bit of daredevil. I have had the wonderful experience of flying in a Hot Air Balloon. It is incredible because when the burners are not on to heat the air in the balloon and make it go higher, it is so absolutely quiet that no one on the ground even knows you are above them and you feel like you are just floating in the air. I love the picture you included of Michael riding in the Hot Air Balloon with his arms out wide hanging over the edge. It must have been such a feeling of Freedom for him!
    I remember a song by the Jacksons, “Goin’ Places” where Michael sings “I like the feeling I get when I’m riding in a Jet. I’m goin’ places”. Your Post made me check it out again! It wasn’t written by Michael or his brothers but it’s a cute song and as always Michael’s amazing vocals stand out.
    One of my favorite parts of Michael’s concerts is when he is in that cherry picker. I hold my breath everytime. He seems so fearless and is loving every single minute. The incident with the crazy fan was unbelievable and just another example of Michael’s amazing professionalism and determination that the performance never stops. He never stopped singing a note and somehow managed to keep that idiot safe and secure. I wonder what heppened to that guy after they peeled him away from Michael and dragged him off the stage!
    Thanks so much again for sharing another lovely remembrance of Michael with all of us.

  3. Michelle says:

    Thank you, Seven! If I spent one day with Michael at Neverland, I would try to get him to teach me not be afraid of hieghts. As a kid, I was fearless but now, I don’t know why this fear of heights has taken over me. Isn’t Michael magical or what?

  4. cjg says:

    Oops I think I called the second performance the wrong name/location – sorry.

  5. cjg says:

    I had only seen a snippet of the “crazy fan” and had no idea Michael had to perform the whole song holding onto this person. Wow, how incredible he was to continue and not miss a beat in such a seriously dangerous situation. Typical Michael worried about the safety of the fan more than himself (you could tell from his behavior). I don’t know if anyone from security lost their job that night but they should have. That was an inexcusable breech in safety. That put Michael at great risk as well as the “crazy fan” and all the fans below (imagine the tragedy if he had fallen onto the sea of fans below). Yet, there is Michael handling it with such grace (although he never should have been put in that position). As he also did in that Brunei performance with the camera people circling him like vultures. They were inhibiting his ability to perform being 21/2 or 3 ft. away from him. He was surrounded. There again the consumate professional and gentleman. I love the way he first tries to direct the one camera person to shoot the audience by “hugging” the camera person and holding the camera at the audience (I’m afraid if Michael had wrapped his arms around me in that manner I would have swooned- but that’s another story). They didn’t get the message so he did the cleverly timed kick at the camera and finally, escape to the cherry picker where he stayed as long as possible – smart move. Poor baby. He was spectacular.

  6. Sina says:

    Seven thanks for the post and the incredible hotair balloon photo.
    Lucky you and how exciting to be able to fly.
    Its interesting that Michael loved heights, climbing trees and performing on the cherry picker.
    I read some where that he was not very comfortable on flights. If I remember well it was in the the testimony of a flight attendant in the 2005 case. I will look it up again.
    To have ones personal hotair balloon pilot, so Michael 🙂

  7. Anne Mette Jepsen says:

    – Oh … And I simply LOVE his WALK! <3 😉

  8. Anne Mette Jepsen says:

    Thank you Seven 🙂