Airwolf is a 1980s American television series about a supersonic military helicopter of the same name. The series ran for 55 episodes (the first a two-hour TV movie) on CBS in the United States in 1984–1986 and an additional 24 episodes, with a new cast and production company, on the USA Network, in 1987, a total of 79 episodes.
The show was created by Donald Bellisario, who also created Magnum, P.I., Quantum Leap, JAG, and NCIS. It had a driving, synthesizer-based musical score penned and performed by Sylvester Levay. The underlying rhythm of the score is highly suggestive of the droning sound made when a helicopter’s rotors beat through the air.
The protagonist, Stringfellow Hawke (played by Jan-Michael Vincent), one of Airwolf’s original test pilots, is hired by The FIRM, a covert branch of the Central Intelligence Agency that built Airwolf, to steal it back from its creator, Dr. Charles Henry Moffet, who has taken it to Libya. Hawke finds the aircraft, but does not return it. Instead, he hides it and occasionally flies it to carry out undercover missions for Uncle Sam, in exchange for assistance from The FIRM in locating his lost brother, St. John (pronounced "Sin-jin") Hawke, missing in action since the Vietnam War.
The series also stars Ernest Borgnine as Hawke’s best friend and co-pilot, Dominic Santini; Jean Bruce Scott as Caitlin O’Shannessy (introduced in the second season), a sheriff's deputy who joins the team to serve as a backup pilot for Airwolf should anything happen to Hawke or Dominic; and Alex Cord as the enigmatic director of The FIRM, Michael Coldsmith Briggs III (cryptonym: Archangel).
The series was dark, arc-driven, and quite reflective of the contemporary Cold War, with The FIRM personnel distinctly dressed in white and boasting that “wearing white hats” distinguished them as good instead of evil to the unconvinced Hawke and Santini. Early episodes detail the efforts of United States government to secure Airwolf from Hawke.
The FIRM, during the first and second seasons, served as both ally and enemy for Hawke and Santini; when an opportunity to seize Airwolf presented itself, Firm operatives often took it. In the episode "Moffett’s Ghost", for example, Airwolf suffers from a legacy fail-safe program instigated by a command from its dead creator, and Hawke confides in an old friend skilled with computer repair. Unbeknownst to Hawke, this individual has been secretly recruited by The FIRM to seize Airwolf from Hawke and Santini, by installing a tracking device to reveal the helicopter's hiding place. Perhaps the most prominent example of The FIRM's conflicting goals is witnessed in "Echos from the Past," in which Dominic, led to believe Hawke has been killed in a helicopter accident, is torn between revealing Airwolf's hiding place to Archangel (who rightly suspects a Libyan plot to seize it) or keeping his vow of secrecy concerning the helicopter to his close friend.
Spoilers end here.
Frustrated by studio preferences, producer Bellisario left the series after season two. The studio wanted to add a female character—which eventually happened, in the form of Jean Bruce Scott—and for the series to be more action-oriented. Airwolf became more streamlined and self-contained. The CBS series was cancelled after ratings bombed; but the cable network USA quietly created new episodes.
The fourth season (1987) is largely regarded by series fans as inferior to the preceding ones. The original cast was quickly written out (only Jan-Michael Vincent appears, and even then only for a few minutes in the first episode); Saint John Hawke, now played by Barry Van Dyke, was mysteriously revealed to be alive and well, replacing Stringfellow Hawke as the central character; and production was moved to Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, with a smaller budget. The crew no longer had access to the original Airwolf helicopter, and all in-flight shots were recycled from earlier seasons; a full-size mockup was used for static shots.
Airwolf is rarely shown on TV channels today, however with DVD releases, it may prompt TV stations to air the show once more. A complete run was aired on UK Digital TV channel " Bravo" a few years ago, along with Street Hawk and Knight Rider.
The flying Airwolf helicopter was in actuality a Bell 222 (serial number 47085, making it the fifth to last built before the 222B was released), registration number N3176S.
Airwolf was painted Phantom Gray Metallic (DuPont Imron 5031X) on top, and a custom pearl-gray (almost white) on the bottom, in a killer whale-like pattern. The craft was also fitted with various prop modifications, such as "turbo jet" engines and intakes, retractable chain guns at the wingtips, and a retractable rocket launcher, known as the "ADF Pod" (ADF standing for All Directional Firing, as the pod could rotate 180 degrees to fire at targets at the sides and rear of the copter) on its belly.
The look of the modifications was designed by Andrew Probert, who has pictures of the construction on his website, and they were first applied to the non-flying mock-up. (built from the body of the very first Bell 222, serial number 47001) From this mock-up molds were made so that parts could be made to FAA specifications before they were added to the flying helicopter.
After the first season, the producers were advised that "chain guns" is a registered trademark of McDonnell Douglas, and they were not referred to as such again. Other modifications were implied with foley and sets; the interior sets were of a fantastical high-tech nature, and there were implied "stealth" noise-reducing capabilities with creative use of sound effects. Airwolf is sometimes referred to in-show as "The Lady" by Santini and Hawke.
Airwolf's insignia patch (also designed by Probert) as worn by the flight-crew was a snarling wolf's head with gossamer wings under the head of lamb; a play off "a wolf in sheep's clothing".
In the show, Airwolf was an armored, stealth aircraft, invisible to conventional radar. It could perform impossible manuvers and stunts, including travel at mach speeds, flying upside down, and flying into the stratosphere. Sound effects were also associated with many of the aircraft's abilities. The helicopter was equipped with "turbo boost," and many times when Airwolf bolted across the sky one would hear her "howl like a wolf" as she made a glass-shattering sound effect. When sitting idle, the aircraft made a mechanical trilling sound. While hovering the rotor blades made a ghostly wind drone. The aircraft could operate on "silent mode" and hover quietly above the ground without being noticed.
The weapons were state-of-the-art, with machine guns that could rip apart tanks and bunkers. The belly missile pod could fire a variety of rockets, including Air-to-Surface Mavericks, Hellfire and heat-seeking Sidewinders. When fired, these rockets usually glowed like a laser bolt or "photon torpedo" in Star Trek. Airwolf was also equipped with an advanced computer system which could identify and track aircraft and ground vehicles. It could display 3D wireframe models and schematics of its targets. The communications system could eavesdrop on radio and telephone conversations, tap into and foul up computer systems, jam enemy transmission frequencies and disrupt ground-based electrical systems. The weapons system could be tied in with the communications system to lock the missiles onto any monitored electronic system. Though never used in the show, Airwolf was also equipped with “nuclear-tipped Shrike missiles”. The button that fires these missiles is near the button that turns on the signal decoder (used to communicate with Archangel).
In one episode ("Airwolf II"), Airwolf had an evil twin, the Airwolf II, also known as Redwolf. The Redwolf was built by The Firm to replace Airwolf, but was stolen and flown by an egotistical test-pilot rival of Stringfellow Hawke’s called Harlan Jenkins. Redwolf differed from Airwolf in that it was painted red where Airwolf was painted white. It was also equipped with a powerful laser weapon. By the end of the episode, Redwolf was destroyed by Airwolf. In later episodes and throughout the 4th season, Airwolf had a similar laser, suggesting that it was salvaged from the wreckage of the Redwolf. Season 4 also featured a similar copter to the Redwolf, known as the Scorpion (suggesting that the Scorpion itself was built from the salvaged wreckage of the Redwolf). This copter was also destroyed by Airwolf (though the footage of the dogfighting was recycled from the "Airwolf II" episode).
After the show was cancelled the modifications were removed. The aircraft was repainted and eventually sold to the German helicopter charter company, Hubschrauber-Sonder-Dienst (aka HSD Luftrettung and Blue Helicopter Alliance), and given the registration number D-HHSD. Airwolf, as a plain Bell 222 air ambulance, crashed in a thunderstorm on 1991-06-09, killing her three passengers.
Season 1 (CBS, Spring 1984) — two-hour pilot and ten additional episodes.
* Jan-Michael Vincent — Stringfellow Hawke (Captain, U.S Army) (noted as 34 years of age in the 5th episode)
* Ernest Borgnine — Dominic Santini (chief proprietor of Santini Air)
* Alex Cord — Michael Coldsmith Briggs III (Deputy Director of government agency called "The Firm"; Code Name: Archangel)
Seasons 2–3 (CBS, 1984–1986) — two seasons of 22 episodes each.
* Vincent, Borgnine, Cord, and
* Jean Bruce Scott — Caitlin O’Shaunessy (former Deputy Sheriff & helicopter pilot of Texas Highway Patrol)
Season 4 (USA Network, Spring–Summer 1987) — 24 episodes, bringing the total hours to 80.
* Barry Van Dyke — Saint John Hawke (reserve Major, U.S Army)
* Michele Scarabelli — Jo Santini (inherited Santini Air from her uncle Dominic Santini after his death)
* Geraint Wyn Davies — Mike Rivers (Major, U.S Air Force)
* Anthony Sherwood — Jason Locke (a core agent in the government agency called "The Company")
* The CD soundtrack for the show, Airwolf Themes: 2CD Special Limited Edition, is a collectors’ item selling for up to $981—a world record—on eBay, making it the “World's Most Expensive Television Soundtrack”. Only 1,000 copies were made.
* A Japanese CD was made, featuring both "Airwolf" and "Knight Rider" themes with full orchestration. This CD is also very rare and hard to find.
* A perfect new replica of the full-size Airwolf helicopter was created for display in a new helicopter museum that opened in August 2006. The build can be viewed at Airwolf.tv.
* Though Airwolf is often cited as having been inspired by Blue Thunder, the similarities are superficial at best. The Blue Thunder helicopter was armored and had thermal imaging and an onboard computer, but its only firepower was a Gatling gun. Blue Thunder also lacked the supersonic capabilities that Airwolf had and was no more maneuverable than any other military helicopter.
* A pair of fan-made “teasers” for a fictional “Airwolf vs. Blue Thunder” episode were made by splicing together scenes from the “Airwolf II” episode and the movie Blue Thunder. One teaser suggests that Blue Thunder is victorious, while the other suggests that Airwolf is the winner. Fans of the series and movie still debate the outcome of such a situation.
* In some episodes, it is suggested that Airwolf is more than just a machine. The clearest of these is “Mind of the Machine”, in which Airwolf is directly described as having been called “very much a living thing” by Moffet, according to one of the former testpilots (played by David Carradine).
* During filming of the series, a helicopter crashed during a maneuver in Pico Canyon, in California. Reid Rondell, Jan Michael Vincent's stunt double, was killed, and a special credit appeared at the end of that episode (Natural Born), dedicating the installment to him.
* In the United Kingdom in the mid 1980s, an Airwolf comic strip appeared for several years as part of the children's television magazine and comic Look-In, to tie in with the British run of the series.
* Creator Donald P. Bellisario first toyed with the idea of the adventures of an ace combat pilot in a third-season episode of Magnum P.I., "Two Birds of a Feather" (1983), starring William Lucking (best known as antagonist Colonel Lynch in The A-Team’s first season), which itself was inspired by an episode of Bellisario's Tales of the Gold Monkey (1982). The Magnum episode acted as the pilot for the would-be series, but the series wasn't commissioned. Bellisario heavily reworked the idea, and the final result was Airwolf.
* In the pilot, the name of Airwolf’s twisted creator is Dr. Moffet. In the second-season episode "Moffett's Ghost", the name mysteriously gained an extra t. The episode also gave Moffett's full name as Dr. Charles Henry Moffett. A novel of the pilot episode published by Star Books had previously suggested that his full name was Dr. George Moffet. But Moffet was referred to as Charles in the pilot episode.
* Airwolf’s creator, Dr. Moffet(t), was played by David Hemmings, who also went on to direct the first-season episode "Mad over Miami" (as well as episodes of other 1980s hits, including The A-Team and Magnum P.I.).
* The sound effect of Airwolf's turbos igniting is made up of several sound elements, including a pane of glass shattering. This shattering effect is a stock sound effect, and can be heard in various Universal-produced series, including several episodes of Magnum P.I. and Airwolf itself.
* A helicopter painted to look like Airwolf appeared in a series of adverts starring Steven Segal, from the Orange mobile phone network operator, in cinemas in the UK during Autumn of 2006
* The opening scene of the film "McHale's Navy" starring Tom Arnold and Tim Curry features a helicopter insertion of enemy forces on the paradise island. Airwolf is the helicopter used. A further Airwolf coincidence/connection is that the admiral Cdr McHale (Arnold) works for, revealed at the end of the movie, is none other than Ernest Borgnine.
* Airwolf (Commodore 64), written and designed by Neil A. Bate and Chris Harvey, with graphics by Chris Harvey and Rory Green, and music by Mark Cooksey. There were unrealized plans to rename the European-produced Airwolf C64 game as Fort Apocalypse 2.
* Airwolf (Amstrad CPC), popular in Europe.
* Airwolf (ZX Spectrum), popular in Europe. Followed up with Airwolf II
* Airwolf (BBC Micro) by Elite, adapted from an unreleased game called Blue Thunder! The helicopter is blue in the game. Seemingly, the only thing changed from the unreleased version was the title. (Note: another BBC game, Superior Software's 'Codename: Droid', used Airwolf's rotor-like base-line on its opening screen. Whether royalties were paid is unknown! This is the only Airwolf connection with the game.)
* Airwolf (Arcade), by Kyugo Boueki.
* Airwolf (Nintendo Famicom), by Kyugo Boueki, released in Japan only.
* Airwolf (Nintendo Entertainment System), by Acclaim.
* Super Airwolf (Sega Mega Drive/Genesis), by Kyugo Boueki, released in the U.S. as CrossFire.
Although not related to the series, the video games Thunder Blade and Super Thunder Blade by SEGA are heavily influenced by Airwolf in concept.
* ERTL 5" (~1:100 scale) die-cast toy model (1984) — available carded (alone) and boxed (with a Santini Air helicopter and jeep)
* ERTL 14" (~1:36 scale) die-cast toy model (1984) — available boxed
* amt/ERTL 1:48 scale plastic model kit (1984) — many Asian knock-offs are also available
* Airwolf 1:19 scale Fuselage kit (unknown) — designed to fit the T-Rex RC helicopter
* Charawheels 1:120 scale die-cast toy model (2004) — Charawheels is “Hot Wheels” in Japan
* Aoshima 1:48 scale die-cast collector’s model (2005) — available in cobalt blue and black (limited).
The first season of Airwolf has been released on DVD in both Region 1 (the United States) and Region 2 (Europe) by Universal.
The release of Season 2 of Airwolf on DVD has been announced for 2006-12-26.
* Airwolf - After A Long Flight Delay, Airwolf - Season 2 Takes Off! — tvshowsondvd.com