Airwolf is an American television series that ran from 1984 through 1987. The program concerned a high-tech military helicopter, code named Airwolf, and her crew as they undertook various missions, many involving espionage, with a Cold War theme.
The show was created by Donald Bellisario. 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 test pilot for Airwolf, an advanced supersonic helicopter with stealth capabilities and a formidable arsenal. Airwolf was built by the FIRM, a division of the CIA. When it is stolen by its twisted creator, Doctor Charles Henry Moffet, Archangel — codename of the deputy director of "the FIRM" — asks Hawke to go to Libya and get it back.
After finding himself stripped of FIRM support and discovering that his pilot-episode love-interest Gabrielle (Belinda Bauer), 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 his brother, St. John, who has been missing in action since Vietnam. To get access to 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, whose Deputy Director, Michael Coldsmith-Briggs III (Alex Cord), is code-named 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, and 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. Hawke remained unconvinced, and Santini was skeptical also (this was explained in “Daddy's Gone a Hunt'n”). Early episodes frequently detailed the efforts of the United States government to secure Airwolf from Hawke, whom it officially charged with having stolen it. Because CBS wanted to transform the series into a more family-oriented show, the program was 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 behind the scenes information).
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.
Main article: List of Airwolf episodes
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 runs.
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, the FIRM and Archangel knew where he was the whole time and was just using Stringfellow Hawke to control Airwolf in the original three seasons). St. John was rescued and subsequently replaced Stringfellow Hawke as the central character. Production moved to Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, 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, said in a Starlog magazine interview[volume & issue needed] that all 24 scripts were in place before the cast arrived, leaving the actors little room to develop their characters.
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 show is also currently airing on Retro Television.
The flying Airwolf helicopter was actually a Bell 222, sometimes unofficially called a Bell 222A, whose serial number was 47085. During filming of the series, the helicopter was owned by Peter J. McKernan Sr.'s JetCopters Inc. of Van Nuys, CA. The helicopter was eventually sold after the show ended and became an ambulance helicopter in Germany, where it crashed and was destroyed in a thunderstorm on June 6, 1992. At the close of filming, Jetcopters used to use the Santini Air 'copter to fly sightseeing tours of Los Angeles.
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, as designed by Andrew Probert and as worn by the flight crew members, was a snarling wolf's head with gossamer wings that appeared to be wearing a sheepskin, complete with the head of the lamb over the wolf's forehead; a direct play on the saying