AIRWOLF - 80s TV Series

By Mark Nobes

Airwolf was an American military action TV show which originally aired from 1984 until 1987, but was also broadcast in the UK. It followed the exploits of a high-tech military helicopter (a Bell 222 which was code-named Airwolf), piloted by Stringfellow "String" Hawke, who was played by Jan Michael-Vincent, and his close friend and flight engineer Dominic Santini, played by Ernest Borgnine, who is also the proprietor of Santini Air.

Michael Coldsmith Briggs III (played by Alex Cord) is the Deputy Director of CIA Division named "The Firm" and code-named Archangel. Marcella (played by Deborah Pratt in 14 episodes from 1984 to 1985) is Archangels right-hand woman.
Airwolf was created by Donald P. Bellisario, and started as a mid-season replacement on CBS. The show was an instant hit with viewers and quickly became one of the network's highest-rated programs. The original Airwolf series ran for three seasons (55 episodes) before being cancelled due to creative differences between Bellisario and the network. Jan Michael-Vincent's addiction to drugs and alcohol was also problematic, and he was actually arrested in 1984 and 1985 after getting in to a fight in a bar.
A fourth season of Airwolf saw a dramatic change, with a completely new cast and new characters, which was funded by and broadcast on the USA Network during the spring and summer of 1987, with 24 episodes in total.
Despite its relatively short run, Airwolf has remained a cult classic and continues to be popular among fans of 1980s television.

The title music was actually orchestral in series one and for the first part of the second series, before becoming synthesizer-based as in the video above - this has to be one of the best synth tunes of the 80s, and it was composed by Sylvester Levay.

Airwolf grid 80s title screen

In series Two and Three we saw the addition of Caitlin O'Shannessy, who was played by Jean Bruce Scott, as the producers wanted another female character, and some of the original cast became semi-regular.

Airwolf artwork by Christopher Tupa (copyright 2020)

This original artwork was kindly sent to us by Christoper Tupa ©. Check out his awesome work at Instagram: TeePublic: Redbubble:

What Type of Helicopter was used in Airwolf?

The heliopter used in the series was a Bell 222 (owned by Jetcopters inc.), a standard civilian helicopter which was often used by emergency and utility services at the time. It was painted in metallic grey and white and modified by attaching film props - these were sold to a private buyer when the series ended. It could transport up to 10 people and was owned by Jetcopters inc. 
In the series, Airwolf is a Mach speed, stealth military helicopter. Fictional modifications include a number of weapons including retractable machine guns that can destroy bunkers and tanks, and a rocket launcher called the ADF pod. It is also fitted with stealth noise reduction, supersonic speed and a stratospheric ceiling.
The Airwolf name is derived from the fact that when it is in turbo boost mode, you can hear it "howl like a wolf".
Bell 222 helicopter used in Airwolf tv show

List of Weapons

AGM-65 Maverick air-to-ground missiles

AIM-9 heat-seeking air to air sidewinder missiles

AGM-12 Bullpup air-to-ground missiles

AIM-095 air-to-air missiles

AGM-95 Agile air-to-air missles

AGM-45 Nuclear Shrive anti-radiation missiles

Paveway laser-guided bombs

AGM-114 Hellfire air-to-air surface missiles (from second season)

M712 Copperhead cannon-launched guided projectiles x 6 (from second season)

FIM-43 Redeye man-portable surface-to-air missiles x 12 (from second season)

Hughes Aim-4 Falcon guided air-to-air missiles x 4 (from second season)

Wing Guns: 30mm auto-cannon x 2 and .50 bmg chain guns x 4 firing around 40 rounds per second,

The helicopter also has strong defensive capablities including an armoured, bullet-proof fuselage, radio jammer, sunburst anti-missile flares, Window/Chaff radar countermeasure anti-missile decoys and 90% radar absorbed skin.

Speed And Height

Although in the series the helicopter can break the sound barrier (reaching Mach1+ with turbo thrusters) and fly into the stratosphere at up to 89,000 feet when pressurised, in reality, even the best helicopters can only reach Mach 0.5 (half the speed of sound) and around 25,000 feet in height.  

Whatever Happened to the Airwolf Helicopter?

It was sold to a German charter company called Hubschrauber-Sonder-Dienst. Sadly, the helicopter was destroyed at 2:30pm on Saturday June 6th 1991 while operating as an air ambulance. After dropping off a young girl with heavy burns at the Cologne University Burns Unit in Köln, on the return flight to Berlin, the crew unexpectedly encountered a thunderstorm which severly reduced their vision. The helicopter clipped some trees and crashed into a mountainside near a quarry, killing all 3 occupants which included a doctor and his assistant. A nearby farmer heard a loud band and alerted emergency services.
However, due to the weather conditions, it took an hour for them to reach the site, and they found the helicopter had snapped in the middle with its engine completely destroyed. Sadly, the 3 occupants were already dead.
The Airwolf movie was released in 1984 and was essentially a re-edited version of the TV pilot, and includes some scenes from season one.

Airwolf Video Game

An Airwolf Video Game was also published by Elite for the Commodore 64Amstrad CPCZX Spectrum, BBC Micro and Atari 8-bit. If I remember rightly, the game for the Atari caused a bit of controversy as it was originally Blue Thunder (it featured a blue helicopter) and was adapted so it could be released as Airwolf. Anyway, it was a very challenging game on all versions and I got very frustrated with it on my Atari 800XL!