Airwolf is an American television series that ran from 1984 through 1987. The program concerned a supersonic military helicopter, code named Airwolf, and her crew as they undertook various missions, many involving espionage, with a Cold War theme.
The show was devised by Donald Bellisario, who had also created Magnum, P.I., and would go on to produce Quantum Leap, JAG, and NCIS. The first three seasons starred Jan-Michael Vincent, Ernest Borgnine, Alex Cord, and Jean Bruce Scott. The final season, for the USA Network, was recast.
The show had a musical score (orchestral-based in the first and early second season episodes; synthesizer-based thereafter) composed and performed by Sylvester Levay.
The series' protagonist is Stringfellow Hawke (played by Jan-Michael Vincent), a loner who lives in a cabin in the mountains, only accompanied by his Bluetick Coonhound, "Tet", and the surrounding wildlife. Hawke is a recluse, spending most of his time alone with his priceless collection of paintings, and serenading eagles with his equally priceless Stradivarius cello. His only real friend and mentor is the older, eternally cheerful Dominic Santini (Ernest Borgnine).
Earlier, Hawke was a testpilot for Airwolf, an advanced supersonic helicopter with stealth capabilities and a formidable arsenal. Hawke is called upon by a man code named Archangel – the leader of "the FIRM" that built Airwolf – to steal Airwolf back from her twisted creator, Doctor Charles Henry Moffet, who had taken her to Libya.
After finding himself stripped of FIRM support and discovering that his pilot-episode love-interest is undercover in Libya, Hawke with Santini's assistance finds Airwolf and recovers it. But Hawke chooses not to return it. Instead, Hawke and Santini hide Airwolf, booby trapped, in an extinct volcano (the Lair) in the remote "Valley of the Gods" (visually modeled on Monument Valley). Hawke refuses to return Airwolf until the FIRM can recover St. John (pronounced Sin-jin) Hawke who has been missing in action since Vietnam and is Stringfellow's brother. To take advantage of using Airwolf, Archangel offers Hawke protection from other government agencies who will try to recover Airwolf in exchange for flying missions of national importance for the Firm.
In the second season, to satisfy CBS executives who wanted to appeal to a wider female audience, the show introduced Caitlin O'Shannessy, played by Jean Bruce Scott. Caitlin is a feisty former Texas Highway Patrol helicopter pilot who eventually joins Airwolf's crew. In "Fallen Angel" Hawke confirms Caitlin's suspicions that he and Santini possess and operate a super helicopter as the three fly Airwolf into East Germany to recover Archangel.
The mysterious organization known as the “FIRM” is a covert branch of the Central Intelligence Agency
, led by Michael Coldsmith-Briggs III (Deputy Director of The FIRM; code-name: Archangel).
In the first two seasons, Archangel is often assisted by Marella (Deborah Pratt). She had doctorates in Aeronautical Engineering, Electronic Engineering, Psychology, Microbiology, and French Literature. She was one year away from completing her Medical Doctorate as of the episode “Fallen Angel”.
The first season of the series was dark, arc-driven, and quite reflective of the contemporary Cold War, with the FIRM personnel distinctly dressed in white, implicitly boasting that “wearing white hats” distinguished them as good instead of evil to the unconvinced Hawke and Santini (explained in “Daddy's Gone a Hunt'n”). Early episodes detail the efforts of the United States government to secure Airwolf from Hawke. Because CBS wanted to transform the series into a more family-oriented series, the show transformed during Season two into a more light-hearted series with Hawke and Santini being portrayed as cooperative partners with the FIRM. (see below for more on the behind the scenes).
The FIRM, during the first three seasons, served as both ally and enemy for Hawke and Santini; when an opportunity to seize Airwolf presented itself, FIRM operatives often took it.
The series ran for 55 episodes on CBS
in the United States in 1984 through 1986, and an additional 24 episodes, with a new cast and production company, aired on the USA Network
in 1987, for a total of 79 episodes
. An enhanced version of the first episode was also released as a motion picture in several countries as well as on home video. The show was broadcast in several international markets.
Magnum P.I. connection
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.
entitled "Two Birds of a Feather" (1983), starring William Lucking
, which itself was inspired by several episodes of Bellisario's Tales of the Gold Monkey
– "Legends Are Forever" and "Honor Thy Brother" (1982) – in which Lucking had played a similar character. The Magnum
episode acted as the pilot for the would-be series, but the series was not commissioned. Bellisario heavily reworked the idea, and the final result was Airwolf
Seasons 2 and 3
To increase ratings the studio wanted to add a female character – which happened at the start of the second season in the form of feisty Caitlin O'Shannessy (Jean Bruce Scott
) – and for the series to move away from its quite dark and moody tales of international espionage into a more domestic and straight action-oriented affair. Airwolf
became more streamlined, domestic, and self-contained. The moves by CBS ultimately proved unsuccessful, however, and while production cost over-runs remained high, creator Bellisario left both the studio and the series after Season 2. Bernard Kowalski stepped in as executive producer for a third season, but after ratings
remained low, the series was canceled by CBS. The USA cable network, however, funded a new and ironically Canadian-filmed, fourth season of episodes, produced via the fledgling production company Atlantis and The Arthur Company owned by Arthur L. Annecharico
, allowing the show to have enough episodes for syndication
The original cast was completely written out of the fourth season (1987); only Jan-Michael Vincent appears in the first, transitional episode. Dominic, played by a double for Ernest Borgnine who is seen only from the back, was killed off in an explosion; Archangel was said to have suddenly been assigned overseas, with "the FIRM" replaced by "the company" (a long-standing nickname for the CIA
in the real world); and no mention was made of Caitlin. Saint John Hawke, now played by Barry Van Dyke
, was suddenly revealed to be alive and well, having been working for many years under deep cover for American intelligence (there were already contradictory statements about his fate in the original three seasons). St. John was rescued and subsequently replaced Stringfellow Hawke as the central character. Production moved to Vancouver
, British Columbia
, with a smaller budget of $300,000 an episode, less than one-third of the original CBS budget. The production crew no longer had access to the original Airwolf
helicopter, and all in-flight shots were recycled from earlier seasons; the original full-size studio mockup was re-dressed and used for all interior shots. Actress Michele Scarabelli
, who played Jo Santini here, said in a Starlog
magazine interview that all 24 scripts were in place before the cast arrived, leaving the actors little room to develop their characters.
is rarely shown on TV channels today, although a syndication
package does exist and occasionally appears as re-runs. In December 2006 and May 2007, the series was given "marathons" on the Sci Fi Channel
, to promote the DVD releases of Seasons 2 and 3, respectively. The show began airing 7 days a week, on UK channel DMAX on January 8, 2008. DMAX is only showing the original 3 CBS seasons.
The Airwolf helicopter
The flying Airwolf helicopter was actually a Bell 222 (sometimes unofficially called a Bell 222A, serial number 47085). During filming of the series the helicopter was owned by JetCopters Inc. in Van Nuys, CA. The helicopter was eventually sold after the show ended and became an ambulance helicopter in Germany.
The concept behind Airwolf was a supersonic and armed helicopter that could blend in by appearing to be civilian and non-military in origin – "a wolf in sheep's clothing". Airwolf's insignia patch (also designed by Probert) as worn by the flight-crew was a snarling wolf's head with gossamer wings that appears to be wearing a sheepskin complete with the head of lamb over the wolf's forehead; a direct play on the saying.
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 (sole proprietor of Santini Air)
- Alex Cord — Michael Coldsmith-Briggs III (Deputy Director of CIA division named "The FIRM"; code-name: Archangel)
- Deborah Pratt - Marella, Archangel's right-hand woman
Seasons 2–3 (CBS, 1984–1986) — two seasons of 22 episodes each.
- Vincent, Borgnine, Cord, Pratt, and
- Jean Bruce Scott — Caitlin O’Shannessy (former helicopter pilot of the 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")
- William B. Davis - Newman (Locke's supervisor in the Company; Newman was initially played by Ernie Prentice just in the pilot episode "Blackjack")
- Airwolf Themes: 2CD Special Limited Edition (Official CD soundtrack)
- Airwolf: The Wonderweapon (German CD soundtrack)
- Airwolf Collector's Edition (VHS)
- Airwolf Replica Helmet (fully-functioning) Video of Helmet working
- Airwolf (Commodore 64), published by Elite, 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), published by Elite, popular in Europe.
- Airwolf (ZX Spectrum), published by Elite, popular in Europe.
- Airwolf (BBC Micro and Atari 8-bit family) by Elite, adapted from Blue Thunder by Richard Wilcox Software. The helicopter is blue in the game. Seemingly, the only thing changed 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.
- Airwolf II , published by Elite on ZX Spectrum, Commodore 64, Amstrad CPC and BBC Micro.
- Super Airwolf (Sega Mega Drive/Sega Genesis), by Kyugo Boueki, released in the U.S. as CrossFire.
Operation Flashpoint: Cold War Crisis,YS Flight, ArmA: Armed Assault, Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, Microsoft Flight Simulator, and Battlefield 1942's Desert Combat mod all have Airwolf addons.
- 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, 2006) — available in cobalt blue ("normal"), black ("Limited"), weathered (2006), and matte black (2007)
- Cox gas-engined Airwolf (1988). Non-RC. Engine powered a small rotor which lifted the model up; a larger free-wheeling rotor auto-rotated the model down when the fuel ran out. Location of touchdown at the mercy of prevailing winds.
There was also a series of tie-in novels printed by Star, adapted from the scripts of various episodes, and coloring books for younger fans (printed in the UK by World Publishing). For several years, the children's TV comic / magazine Look-In ran an Airwolf comic strip to tie in with the original UK broadcast of the series.
DVD & VHS releases
Universal Studios Home Entertainment
has released the first 3 seasons of Airwolf
on DVD in regions 1 & 2. Earlier releases consisted of single episodes on VHS
, most notably a United Kingdom 18 certificate
cut of the pilot episode, presented as a standalone film with profanity that was not present in the aired version.
||Region 2 |
| Season One
|| 11 episodes
|| May 24, 2005
|| April 3, 2006 |
| Season Two
|| 22 episodes
|| December 26, 2006
|| March 12, 2007 |
| Season Three
|| 22 episodes
|| May 22, 2007
|| August 13, 2007 |
| Seasons 1–3
|| 55 episodes
|| October 22, 2007 |
| Season Four
|| 24 episodes
|| TBA |