a MACH-1+ attack helicopter with an assortment of 14 different
weapons ranging from 50 millimeter chain guns to Sidewinder
missiles to Sunburst flares. Hidden from the U.S. Government
by its test pilot only to be returned when the pilot's brother,
an MIA in Vietnam, can be found.
This was the basis of the show named after the helicopter mentioned
above, which starred Jan-Michael Vincent as Stringfellow Hawke.
An idealistic loner and former military pilot who served in
Vietnam, who along with the help of his friend and mentor Dominic
'Dom' Santini (played by Ernest Borgnine), a World War II vet
who flew with Hawke's father and owned the commercial flight
business "Santini Air", steal back a super helicopter stolen
from the U.S. Government by its mad creator Dr. Charles Henry Moffet (played by David Hemmings). Once the chopper is in Hawke's
possession Hawke holds it until the government finds his brother
St. John who went down in a mission in 'Nam.
In exchange for helping keep government agencies off Hawke's
back, Michael Goldsmith Briggs III – codenamed Archangel
(played by Alex Cord), a deputy director of the organization
that built Airwolf called the Firm, asks Hawke to fly Airwolf
on missions of national interest. Noted aspects of Archangel
are a white suit he always wore, not to mention being surrounded
by a bevy of beautiful women who were dubbed his 'Angels of
Mercy'. His chief 'angel' was Marella, played by Deborah Pratt
(the wife of the Airwolf series creator
and executive producer, Donald Bellisario).
Airwolf was very much a product of its time, as it
was set during the Cold War
period of the 1980's when the big enemy of America was the communist
U.S.S.R. On another hand Airwolf was also very much
a human interest show that put people above politics and money.
The audience got to see real people placed in the world of international
espionage and intrigue and try to come out on the other side
with Hawke and Dom helping them out. Examples are when an American
spy and his Russian family need to be smuggled out of the country,
and the daughter says that she can never give up what's in her
heart (her homeland of Russia). Another example is when a young
Shannon Doherty (Charmed, Beverly Hills 90210) played
a young runaway hoping to find her father only to get trapped
with Dom by a rogue Firm agent who hoped to capture Airwolf
to cement his position in the government superstructure. And
in a corporate setting Dom brought questions about how corporations
do business at the expense of the American people in an episode
called 'Santini's Millions'.
Airwolf dealt with Cold War threats, but it also dealt
with terrorism as well. Before Osama Bin Laden became the terrorist
of the modern world Mohamar Khadafi of Libya was the terrorist
of the Cold War world who apparently operated with Russian support.
Airwolf dealt with such terrorist threats from mercenaries
employed by Khadafi, as well as militia colonels from Cuba as
well as Soviet spies interested in acquiring the super chopper.
In the second season Airwolf also dealt with domestic
and human interest issues such as a group of Vietnamese farmers
being terrorized by an old war criminal, a young teen pilot
who sought to find who killed his uncle when he refused to fly
drugs for his murderers, and a country western singer who was
kidnapped by her ex-husband/manager who wanted royalties from
Airwolf may have been in a Cold War setting but it
had a timeless message about the value of the human being, and
helping people in trouble. Also comparisons of the world then
can be applied to the world today. Such examples are in one
episode where Archangel made a deal with Cuban criminals to
supply them with weapons in hopes of toppling Castro's regime.
Also government agencies pursuing their own agendas to where
the left hand wasn't sure what the right hand was doing. Yet
in a world where there were varying shades of grey Hawke, Dom,
and second season addition Texas Highway Patrol officer Caitlin
'Flying Metermaid' O'Shaughnessy (played by Jean Bruce Scott
of Magnum P.I. fame) were always the ones in the white
hats who sought to do the right thing.
Another one of the show's appeals was the music used in the
episodes. Theme music for a specific episode often took on a
haunting techno feel that had an orchestral background, giving
the episode its own identity. The main theme music of Airwolf
was also given a haunting techno-orchestra feel, and is considered
to be one of the most memorable TV themes today.
itself was a modified Bell-222 that was built for executive
transport. The helicopter was supposed to have a 'wolf in sheep's
clothing' aspect as it looked like a typical executive chopper
one minute then when brought into combat mode began to show
its teeth. The logo design of Airwolf also had a wolf in sheep's
clothing design as it had a wolf wearing a sheep's pelt on its
back as if shedding its disguise and revealing its teeth.
However much of the domestic and human interest angles in the
second season were not brought about by Donald Bellisario (a
producer on the original Battlestar Galactica) who
went on to create shows like Quantum Leap and JAG.
Those were brought on by a mandate from the CBS network that
Bellisario didn't necessarily agree with. The disagreement reached
a point where Bellisario quit his own show and left before the
third season would begin. This would be the first of many problems
the show would have before its end. Another would be a crash
of an Airwolf chopper during filming of the episode
'Natural Born' where Jan-Michael Vincent's flight double was
When the third season came about Airwolf's problems
came to a head. Airwolf was without its main producer
and creator in Donald Bellisario. Adding to those problems were
the substance abuse problems of Jan-Michael Vincent which made
him very difficult to work with due to allegedly violent tendencies
and apparently reporting to the set drunk a number of times.
These reasons, along with high budget and stunt costs that couldn't
support the ratings it was receiving, led to CBS's decision
to cancel the show.
But Airwolf was not dead yet. The USA Network commissioned
a fourth season that operated on a shoestring budget and made
use of stock footage from the previous Airwolf seasons
for the aerial combat sequences. Any scenes of the chopper that
were not stock were done from a stage mock up. The purpose of
this fourth season was for syndication stripping and made use
of a new cast replacing the old cast, although Vincent would
appear in one episode to pass the baton to the new lead pilot - his
brother St. John (played by Barry Van Dyke of Galactica
1980 and Diagnosis Murder). Rounding out the cast would be Dom's niece Jo Santini
(played by Alien Nation's Michelle Scarabelli) who
takes over Dom's helicopter piloting business after Dom is killed
in a helicopter explosion that severely injuring String, Major
Mike Rivers (played by Gerald Wyn Davies of Forever Knight),
and agent Jason Locke (played by Anthony Sherwood) who takes
over the Airwolf case after Archangel is reassigned somewhere
in the Middle East. Caitlin O'Shaugnessy's fate is never revealed
and Stringfellow's fate is left open-ended after awaking from
a coma caused when he was caught near the explosion that killed
The fourth season dealt with Cold War threats, but it also went
in different (and at times unusual) directions. Airwolf was
suddenly equipped with a whisper mode (taken from the Blue
Thunder chopper) and now seemed to be incorporated with
a laser. Missions also dealt with Locke and a friend being implanted
with mind control chips in hopes of capturing Airwolf, and a
scientist played by actor Dick Van Dyke – Barry Van Dyke's
father – who wanted all diseased people exiled to a remote
island only to find the scientist is in fact an android. It
should also be noted that when St. John was found Airwolf was
not sent back to the government as String promised (possibly
due to String not being in a position to keep that promise due
to the chopper explosion from the first episode of the fourth
season) and St. John and his crew were now part of what seemed
to be an international crime fighting team dealing with threats
as they came about.
though the fourth season was not considered to be of as high
a quality as the previous three had been, it did the job of
rounding out the Airwolf package for syndication and
the series finally ended. A Japanese company was reportedly
interested at one point of using the Airwolf chopper
to film a commercial. But due to the original chopper being
destroyed in a rescue mission when it was remanded to a German
hospital the Redwolf (featured in the third season episode 'Airwolf
II') was refitted with Airwolf parts and used instead.
However that commercial was not seen in the United States so
it is not certain if this claim can be substantiated.
Today the first season of Airwolf has been released
on DVD, with more seasons apparently to follow. So fans of today
can enjoy the adventures of the super chopper and its crew,
and compare the political climate of yesterday to the political
climate of today. As well as enjoy great human drama all at
the same time.