Title card from original run
|Created by||Donald P. Bellisario|
Jean Bruce Scott
|Theme music composer||Sylvester Levay|
|Composer(s)||Sylvester Levay (S1-3)
Udi Harpaz (S2-3)
|Country of origin||United States|
|No. of seasons||4|
|No. of episodes||79 (List of episodes)|
|Running time||45–48 minutes|
|Original channel||CBS (1984–1986)
|Original run||January 22, 1984– August 7, 1987|
Airwolf is an American television series that ran from 1984 until 1987. The program centers on a high-tech military helicopter, code named Airwolf, and its crew as they undertake various missions, many involving espionage, with a Cold War theme.
The show was created by Donald P. Bellisario. The first three seasons star Jan-Michael Vincent, Ernest Borgnine, Alex Cord, and (from the second season onwards) Jean Bruce Scott. After the original series was cancelled, a fourth season, with an entirely new cast and on a much smaller budget, was filmed in Canada for the USA Network.
The show's distinctive musical score, which was originally orchestral-based and shifted to more synthesizer-oriented arrangements early in the second season, was composed and conducted mainly by Sylvester Levay. Udi Harpaz conducted the scores for many later second and third season episodes.
The series' protagonist is Stringfellow Hawke (Jan-Michael Vincent), a loner who lives in a cabin outside of Los Angeles, California in a remote mountain area that was based at Lake Hemet, accompanied only 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 which he inherited from his grandfather (the art was a gift for his grandmother), and serenading eagles with his equally priceless Stradivarius cello. His only real friend and mentor is the older, eternally cheerful Dominic Santini (Ernest Borgnine) who raised Stringfellow and his brother St John (pronounced "sin-jin") after their parents died. Stringfellow's father and Dominic flew in World War II together.
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 (a play on the term "the Company", a nickname for the CIA). Airwolf was stolen by its twisted creator, Dr. Charles Henry Moffet (David Hemmings). Michael Coldsmith Briggs III (Alex Cord), the Firm's deputy director (codename Archangel), then asks Hawke to go to Libya to retrieve the helicopter. Archangel has a blind left eye and walks with a limp as a result of having been caught in the carnage Moffet unleashed when he stole Airwolf.
Fearing that Hawke would refuse the mission to recover Airwolf, the Firm confiscates his art collection and leaves Gabrielle (Hawke's pilot-episode love-interest, played by Belinda Bauer) behind to brief him for his mission. A week later, after an undercover operative is killed in the line of duty, Gabrielle is sent in undercover and Hawke is sent in sooner than originally planned. With Santini's assistance, Hawke finds and recovers Airwolf but chooses not to return it. Instead, he and Santini booby-trap Airwolf and hide it in a large natural cave in the remote "Valley of the Gods" (visually modeled on Monument Valley). Hawke calls this cave "the Lair". 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 might try to recover Airwolf; in return, Hawke and Santini must fly 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 Firm 
||This section may contain original research. (February 2013)|
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." Marella is last seen in the second season final episode "Short Walk to Freedom"; in the third season, she was replaced by a series of different minor characters.
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 who is officially charged with having stolen it. Because CBS wanted to make the series more family-oriented, the program was transformed during Season Two into a more light-hearted show 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.
Production history 
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. A reedited version (produced in Germany) of the first episode was also released on home video in the UK and several countries; it received a theatrical release in Indonesia. 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 was intended as a backdoor pilot, but a series was not commissioned. Bellisario heavily reworked the idea, and the final result was Airwolf.
Seasons 2 and 3 
To improve ratings, the studio wanted to add a regular female character and jettison the dark and moody tales of international espionage. This was accomplished at the start of the second season with the addition of Caitlin O'Shannessy (Jean Bruce Scott) and new stories that were domestic and more action-oriented. These changes proved unsuccessful, however, and while production costs remained high, creator Bellisario left both the studio and the series after Season 2. Bellisario's then-wife, Deborah Pratt, also left at that time (she was nearly three months pregnant with their daughter, Troian, as Season 2 drew to a close). Bernard Kowalski stepped in as executive producer for the third season, but the ratings remained low and the series was canceled by CBS.
Season 4 
The USA Network funded a new fourth season in 1987, to be produced in Canada by Atlantis and The Arthur Company (owned by Arthur L. Annecharico) in association with MCA. This was intended to increase the number of episodes to make the show eligible for broadcast syndication. The original cast was written out of the fourth season: Jan-Michael Vincent appears in a first transitional episode; a body double for Ernest Borgnine seen only from the back represented Santini, who was killed off in an explosion; Archangel was said to have suddenly been assigned overseas. "The Firm" was replaced by "the Company"; no mention was made of Caitlin. St John Hawke, played by Barry Van Dyke, was suddenly revealed to be alive, having been working for many years as a deep undercover agent for American intelligence, contradicting characterizations in the previous three seasons. St. John replaced Stringfellow as the central character. Production moved to Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, with a reduced budget, 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.
The Airwolf helicopter 
The flying Airwolf helicopter was actually a Bell 222, serial number 47085, sometimes unofficially called a Bell 222A. During filming of the series, the helicopter was owned by Jetcopters, Inc. of Van Nuys, California. The helicopter was eventually sold after the show ended and became an ambulance helicopter in Germany, where it crashed in a thunderstorm and was destroyed on June 6, 1992, killing all three crew members.
The concept behind Airwolf was a supersonic armed helicopter that could be disguised as a civilian vehicle — "a wolf in sheep's clothing". Andrew Probert designed the Airwolf uniform insignia patch worn by the flight crew members, a snarling bat-winged wolf's head wearing a sheepskin.
At the close of filming, Jetcopters used the Santini Air helicopter to fly sightseeing tours of Los Angeles.
Regular cast 
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 (semi-regular, not season three), 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 wa played by Ernie Prentice just in the first episode, "Blackjack")
- Airwolf Themes: 2CD Special Limited Edition (Official CD soundtrack)
- Airwolf: The Wonderweapon (German CD soundtrack)
- Airwolf Replica Helmet (fully functioning)
- Models of the Airwolf (helicopter), see link for list.
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), as well as a UK annual, which, despite being produced in 1985 (to cover 1986), was based around the first season. 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.
Video games 
- Airwolf (Commodore 64, Commodore 16), published by Elite. 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 (ZX Spectrum, Commodore 64, Commodore 16, Amstrad CPC and BBC Micro), published by Elite.
- Super Airwolf (Sega Mega Drive/Sega Genesis), by Kyugo Boueki, released in the U.S. as CrossFire.
A syndication package does exist and the show occasionally appears as re-runs.
VHS and DVD releases 
Universal Studios Home Entertainment has released the first 3 seasons of Airwolf on DVD in regions 1, 2 & 4. Earlier releases consisted of single episodes on VHS (double episodes in the UK and some countries, edited together into "movie" format; later in the UK, a selection of first and season episodes were released by Playback on both VHS and DVD), most notably a United Kingdom 18 certificate cut of the pilot episode, presented as a standalone film (reshuffling and reworking many scenes, and removing much of the continuity ties with the following series, as well as incorporating footage from the first season episode "Mad Over Miami", and with profanity that was not present in the aired version).
Season 4 was released in Region 1 on February 1, 2011.
On September 6, 2011, Shout! Factory released Airwolf: The Movie on DVD in Region 1 for the very first time. This 1-disc set features the 2hr pilot tele-film fully restored and uncensored. It also contains special features including a new interview with Ernest Borgnine.
|DVD Name||Ep#||Release dates|
|Region 1||Region 2||Region 4|
|Season One||12||May 24, 2005||April 3, 2006||December 5, 2006|
|Season Two||22||December 26, 2006||March 12, 2007||May 2, 2007|
|Season Three||22||May 22, 2007||August 13, 2007||September 5, 2007|
|Season Four||24||February 1, 2011||N/A||N/A|
See also 
- Staff (1986). "Emmy, Volume 8". Emmy (Academy of Television Arts & Sciences (ATAS)) 8: 20.
- Van Hoten, C: "The Wolf's Lair, Issue 3, p. 6". Veritas Fan Publishing, 2005. wolfslair.airwolf.tv
- Credits at the end of the episodes state "Helicopters provided by Jetcopters, Inc."
- Video of Helmet working, youtube.com
- Airwolf at MobyGames
- Airwolf, ataricave.com Retrieved 2007-03-13.
- Airwolf at MobyGames
- Airwolf at MobyGames
- Airwolf at the Internet Movie Database — television movie pilot (1984)
- Airwolf: The Website
- Airwolf at TV.com
- Wired article on Airwolf replica for sale, blog.wired.com
- Airwolf on RotaryAction.com