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Airwolf began as a mid-season replacement show and started off the series with the top secret chopper being stolen by its developer, Dr. Charles Moffett, and taken to Libya to be used as Qaddafi's personal weapon against anyone he dislikes. Stringfellow is approached by Archangel, who very nearly died when Moffett stole Airwolf, and is offered plenty of money to get Michael's pet project back. Hawke, however, has little need of money; he's already comfortable and cultured, so the offer of riches means little to him. There IS something else Hawke wants and, being a top-level spy with access to classified information, Archangel may be able to get it for him. String wants his MIA older brother St. John found. Alive or dead, he doesn't care, but he wants his brother brought home from Viet Nam. Dominic objects vigorously to Hawke having anything to do with Archangel, but he's talked into the deal. He and String retrieve the stolen Airwolf but then refuse to return it to Michael. Hawke wants to use the chopper to force the spy to help him. Archangel seems more amused than annoyed at Hawke's actions, and is amazingly unsurprised by Airwolf's theft. The three men form a shaky alliance: Archangel will try to use his resources to find St. John Hawke, and String and Dom will fly missions for the spy and his organization, the FIRM.
The implausible technology aspects aside(helicopters cannot attain supersonic speeds without destroying themselves), this was a decent show. The effects were passable, the writing generally good, and the acting was solid. Airwolf was unusual in that it had three former movie veterans in its lineup. Jan-Michael Vincent was great as gloomy Stringfellow Hawke, Ernest Borgnine was perfect for tough old Dominic Santini, and Alex Cord made a sophisticated yet vulnerable Archangel. Deborah Pratt played Michael's assistant Mirella for the first half-season. She was later replaced by Jean Bruce Scott as spunky Caitlin O'Shaughnessy, a pilot that Hawke had helped in a previous episode.
Airwolf never sank significantly in the ratings but was pulled after the second full season. Part of the problem was CBS's efforts to tone down the brooding dark quality of the show that made it so unique. The network wanted a more "family-friendly" program, which caused the episodes to veer almost schizophrenically between human interest fluff and cool espionage stuff. The biggest obstacle to the show's success was the escalating substance abuse problem of its main star, Jan-Michael Vincent, which negatively affected his work. Airwolf was a fantastically expensive series, even by 80's standards, and having its star showing up with increasing frequency unprepared for work couldn't be tolerated for long. We at first thought it was a cross between Blue Thunder and Firefox, but soon realized that it was neither. It was, and remains, a very original program that we seriously hope comes out on DVD someday---soon! It was a fun flight of imagination in the 80's and is still one today.
There were so many good things about this series. Alex Cord, Jan-Michael Vincent and Ernest Borgnine were very good in their roles (the lovely Jean-Bruce Scott joined them in season 2)and very convincing.
The plots were good. Throughout the series Airwolf went to battle against rogue dictators, wicked scientists and bad guys who wanted their hands on Airwolf.
The action scenes were always fantastic. The music accompanying the action was brilliant. There was always an action scene at the end where Airwolf went to war against the bad guys who usually had their own helicopter/plane.
It was a typical 80's show which aired when the cold war was still very hot. No-body knew who to trust. Even Michael Archangel played by Alex Cord seemed to have his own agenda. Stringfellow Hawke also had his own agenda. He was holding onto Airwolf until the government found his missing in action brother. Until that time Hawke flew Airwolf on missions to protect the free world.
A fantastic series.
Besides suffering from a divided series vision and objective where some shows were fluff and some writing actually had a message and a way to drive it home, Airwolf series was as much a victim of small-studio Hollywood limitations. As X-files suffered Vancouver-itis, Airwolf suffers from outdoor locations being a bit too southern California or blatantly the Universal back lot to pull off Russia, Germany or the snowy waste of Northern Alaska. And the show had to fake glaciers, volcanic explosions, Mexican deserts, and Russia and night flights time with refilming existing film with filters. With scale models and wind machines. People tugging on strings and pushing buttons. The old fashioned way. Like thirty years of TV before it. In time to make a schedule. So someone better get off their backs! They made that flying prop look gooood.
I think people also slam the believability factor without considering audiences back in 1984 weren't all that sophisticated. They didn't question if the Road Runner and Coyote cartoons had proper physics. Those were fun because it didn't. Consider that the Airwolf show (all TV shows) was a one-off, once a week thing to catch on TV and not see again unless you had one of them new, expensive VCRs. People saw shots once and the human mind filled in any mistakes. And people didn't have the Internet to hop onto and find out choppers don't surpass X knots of speed. The Boob Tube was the source of news and entertainment everyday. And people would simply believe it if the pretty scientist lady says it turns off the blades and acts like a jet.
Then they go on about how the Bell 222A was a dog of a ship to fly around. And when they weren't making it look like a Travel California tourism film, they made that thing look like a barn swallow dogging cats on a lawn. That's true magic! The ability to turn that worked up Bell into The Lady people still fill Internet boards discussing so seriously. I just don't think we have the same kind in the present day. At least not in this age of 'reality' TV... It got young people interested in helicopters and general aviation. And maybe just a touch of science? I almost can't call it an action show. It's a science fiction show actually set on the planet Earth. You really just have to roll with it without there being cell phones and fax machines and personal computers. The hero can't type a letter, but can redirect a sidewinder. He and his mentor actually get their hands dirty and fix aircraft and basic electronic circuitry. About the only show I can think of as its descendant is Heroes for bending the "they can't do that" suspension of disbelief like Airwolf did. And now all TV adventure shows/cop shows are done with a bit more attention to how long it takes to fly and drive places. To way more medical science, bombs, physics and laptops than people in 1984 ever cared to think about... As a result from shows like Airwolf and Nightrider. And who knows? Maybe fifteen years from now people will be slamming Heroes the same way?
In many ways, the show was essentially Knight Rider in the skies: similar comic-book technology, a central character who was essentially a loner, and echoing the concept of one man making a difference.
But in other, important ways, it was thematically very different from Knight Rider, Street Hawk, The A-Team and other action shows of the time. For one thing, the premise of the series is built not on a desire to help those in need, but by Stringfellow Hawke's possession of Airwolf for essentially selfish reasons (as leverage to try to find his MIA brother, St John). And then there is the dark edge provided by basing the series firmly in an 80s Cold War context, complete with Soviet espionage and Central American dictators, not to mention the enemy within. Sure, The A-Team constantly referred back to Vietnam and the team's status as fugitives, but it was generally done with a light touch and was rarely central to the plot itself. With Airwolf, the intrigue was key to the tone and direction of the show - although this was (ill-advisedly) diluted as the series went on.
With hindsight, the Cold War setting clearly dates the series, many of the stories are creaky and contrived, and much of what Airwolf does is clearly implausible even with today's technology. But that's really not the point. Airwolf was rip-roaring fun, it tried to tell interesting stories without relying solely on the big action sequences, and it didn't sugar-coat everything by miraculously ensuring nobody died. Sometimes it failed, but often it succeeded admirably - and on a TV budget to boot.
For UK readers, DMAX (Sky channel 155) have just started (Jan 2008) daily re-runs of Airwolf. Set your Sky+ box for this blast from the past - we may even get the re-tooled, re-cast (and sadly vastly inferior) fourth season, which to my knowledge has never previously been shown in the UK.
When the 2nd season kicked in, they moved it to an afternoon Saturday slot. This is when a new co-pilot Caitlin was introduced. She wasn't bad, and they still did good intrigue episodes such as the gripping thriller Moffatt's Ghost, Fallen Angel and HX-1 (Once A Hero was a spectacular actioner), but gradually, the series became cornier, as the Airwolf team began helping out ordinary people and there were some soapy stories such as String falling for a rock singer. They also started using stock footage in some episodes, more so in the third season.
The 3rd season got off to a cracking start with the menacing Horn Of Plenty. Richard Lynch did a good job as the manipulative Van Horn and Caitlin proved she could be a bad*** as well. Other top episodes were Airwolf II, Annie Oakley and Deadly Circle, but as I said before, they started over-using stock footage from previous series and the stories were becoming slushy. Despite this, Airwolf was arguably the best action-packed thriller on the small screen during the Reagan era.
Airwolf was the story of a super powered battle helicopter that had been stolen by it's creator Moffit and taken to Libya, Micheal Archangel who was nearly killed in Moffits stealing of Airwolf tried to recruit Stringfellow Hawke to retrieve Airwolf.
Hawke at first rejects the offer and pressure is put on him by his art collection being taken from his home, Hawke wants Archangel to trace his brother St John who is MIA in Vietnam. Hawke agree's to get Airwolf back and with the help of his friend Santini, they both get Airwolf back and kill Moffit in the process and blow any planes out of the sky that get in their way.
Hawke decides to keep Airwolf and will fly missions for Archangel on the understanding that Archangel continues looking for Hawke's brother.
Overall a great action drama series, the music was fantastic, Sylvester Levy's theme tune fitted the show so well not just at the beginning and end, but when Airwolf was starting up, you would see Hawke pushing the button's to start Airwolf, the blades would slowly turn as the music started to build up, the music got faster and the blades on Airwolf got faster, you would see the instrument panels light up ready for action.
Thye air battles were great although some scenes were reused quite a lot especially in the disaster of a 4th series. A movie would be a fitting tribute to the series and the unfortunate Jan Micheal Vincent who has suffered over the years through various abuses of substances, but knowing Hollywood it wouldn't be right unless Belasarius was involved as producer.
It defined the very essence of awesome, from the memorable score to the tremendously cool performance by Jan-Michael Vincent as Stringfellow Hawke. He was the ultimate hero, for me, and Ernest Borgnine's Dominic has always been my definition of what a true friend should be.
When my son gets old enough, I plan on showing him the DVDs. He'll probably find it incredibly lame at the time, but dammit I need to share this with him! That's how important it was to my development growing up.
Then the opening credits start! Other cool sequences from the series include Dom and String dropping airwolf out of a C130 Hercules (a bell222 b is too wide by several inches to fit inside a C130!), airwolf taking out fighter jets with their OWN rockets (she was demilitarized for some reason), and the best episode of all, was the first, with the big desert chase sequence, with hawke chasing down moffat, after he killed his girl by cooking her in the desert heat.
The show had many twists and turns, and lots of action to keep it watchable, and the theme is unmistakable, played by Sylvester Levy, had that 80's "synthesizer" sound, yet was upbeat enough to tap your foot along to when the action sequences, or titles came on.
All in all, still my favorite show, its why I have the boxed set and the episodes on my hard drive :)
The four seasons of Airwolf feature the main characters getting mixed up in all kinds of drama that eventually needs the Airwolf helicopter to help. Airwolf is an advanced prototype combat helicopter capable of supersonic speed that is deployed on missions of personal and national interest, flown by two of the main characters described below.
Jan Michael Vincent plays Stringfellow Hawke, an ex-Vietnam helicopter pilot and Ernest Borgnine who plays Domenic Santini, an old pilot from way back. Together as buddles, they secretly fly Airwolf with funding provided by an FBI-like firm that agrees to support them until they can locate String's brother, believed to be missing and still in Vietnam.
After an ambitious pilot two-part episode (later re-trimmed into a telemovie) which sets up the ongoing series, Airwolf settles into a typical action TV show formula, however the overuse of repeated aerial footage of the Airwolf helicopter (often sped up to make it more exciting) will spoil it for late comers to the series.
For helicopter enthusiasts it will reward them with countless sequences involving Airwolf (a modified Bell 222) and many other types, often seeing Hughes 500s deployed as the enemy gunships.
For trainspotters, it's always "fun" to see the footage from the pilot or early episodes being used in later episodes, or being surprised to see they have shot new footage. It's easy to assume that the running costs of the helicopters had a major impact on the production. The "dramatic" original landing sequences were often a highlight.
Some episodes were grounded in personal drama, some were just ridiculous by today's science and some were standout stories and made you wish for more. Many episodes end with a montage of Airwolf flying around with the wonderful Slyvestor Levay electronic theme music as the credits roll.
Season 4 was a low-budget cable-funded continuation of the series featuring new characters mixed with old helicopter footage. It is almost dis-owned by fans of the earlier 3 seasons in much the same way Galactica 1980 was by Battlestar Galactica fans.
Question - does anyone have pictures of Hawke's cabin. I love that cabin (kinda like a dream cabin of mine) and that is one of the scenes i remember about Airwolf.
Worth a look, even if you have the season 1 DVD set, I'd still pick up a copy of the "movie" It's still in some shops like virgin, Woolworths and the likes of mixed media stores, although it generally needs ordering, But it saves needing to buy online (as many of us still don't do or trust online shopping) but if you look around airwolfs in stores
Airwolf was truly 1 of the 80's most under rated shows.
A full size Airwolf is currently being re-built for a Helicopter Museum :) Info and work in progress pictures are over at http://Airwolf.org Also with Airwolf Mods for Flashpoint and Flight Sim Games It seams she's finally here to stay :)
But I do remember Blue Thunder as well as being the more realistic of the two but had some the most awful writing that I have ever seen (which is the primary reason that it failed horribly).
How ever to compare the two's combat abilities and prowess is like comparing an urban gorilla fighter to the classic field army solider. If anyone paid any good detail to the Blue Thunder Movie. It wasn't about supersonic speed or multiple types of weapons. But about reaction time relative to speed and knowledge of the city. BT took out an F-16 Falcon armed with heat seeking missiles and Mach 2 speed by first avoiding it missiles by decoying it to other heat sources within the city. Then it hid in between buildings and used its 20mm cannon to saw off its wing. Jets fighting a helicopter in a city is like a car trying to out maneuver a motorcycle in an alleyway, and down park steps and sidewalks. Airwolf likes its pray more out in the open where its speed and long range weapons are at an advantage. If Airwolf stepped into BT type of battle ground it would be at a disadvantage sense its main weapons (missiles) would be at a disadvantage (even the radar guided ones because of the greater radio interference and tall buildings). Also Airwolf's guns lack the turret option of BT.
If BT tried to meet Airwolf in open ground it would be in Airwolf advantage.
As a cold war military action adventure, I really like the darker faux spy militarism stuff. The helicopter is loads of fun but I like the show less and less as it goes on. The second season tries to add air to the show and make it a procedural more in line with other shows like the A-team. It becomes a hybrid that doesn't quite work. I've never seen the fourth season and I probably never will. This is a show that burnt itself out after a great opening.