A 1984-87 action-adventure program about Stringfellow Hawke, a helicopter pilot whose brother is missing in Vietnam. The concept of the show is that Stringfellow Hawke manages to blackmail the Firm (A thinly veiled branch of the CIA) by failing to return a prototype helicopter that he'd retrieved for them after the chopper's creator, the evil Dr. Moffet, flew it off to Libya.Unusually cordial about this act, The Firm proceeds to hire Stringfellow Hawke as a mercenary to fight against various threats from communists or criminals. Several times, the Firm would attempt to recover Airwolf despite the fact that they routinely allowed Stringfellow Hawke into sensitive areas to discuss the helicopter's placement. The Soviets tried to do the same, although the discussions tended to be far more forceful.After Season 3, the show was radically retooled with Stringfellow Hawke replaced by his brother Saint John Hawke. The sole season after this, which was made for USA Network at a time where cable series literally had No Budget, was mostly composed of (painfully obvious) Stock Footage and ceased to have much of the previous helicopter action that they had once had.The show is well known for its theme music that combined techno with a humming meant to invoke helicopter blades. It also includes some very impressive low-level helicopter flying.The show is number one on Cracked's list of 6 TV Shows That Completely Lost Their Shit.
The Ace: At first, it's claimed that Stringfellow is among the handful of people in the world, if not the only one, who can successfully fly Airwolf into combat, due to the fact The Lady is such an experimentally high-performance aircraft, capable of going into rotor-free "Turbo mode". After joining the cast, flying prodigy Caitlin acquires the necessary skill-set through observing him. Dom flies Airwolf as well, even going into turbo mode on a few occasions in the second and third seasons, but he never engages in combat while doing this.
Ace Pilot: Stringfellow and almost certainly Dominic.
A.I. Is a Crapshoot: Though not played with much in the series, Airwolf does have a primitive AI system that monitors and constantly optimizes the copter's systems. It also learns from and can assist the pilot in combat situations. These abilities are utilized in "Moffett"'s Ghost, as Airwolf has to find its own way to Langley and to deal with the situations it's in. These precise situations are not likely to be things Moffett could have predicted or programmed the autoplilot to do without such AI, as he had no idea where Airwolf would be or what it would be doing if he were dead or in jail at that point in time.
There are also times when Airwolf seems to respond to the crew, such as the hydraulics hissing right after Dom asked if she missed him, or one of the engines stalling directly after an insult directed at her.
The insistance upon refering to Airwolf as female is even used by Moffett and seems to go beyond the typical reference to machines as female.
A-Team Firing: Spectacularly averted. When Stringfellow Hawke shoots, he shoots to kill. Also, as stated in Mind Of The Machine, it's nearly impossible to miss a ground target with Airwolf's targeting systems.
Atrocious Alias/Awesome Mc Cool Name: The unusual combination. "Stringfellow" isn't really the name most people would associate with a badass action hero. But Hawke most certainly is.* A Wolf in Sheep's Clothing: Invoked if not actually used. The design concept was a supersonic attack helicopter whose weapons were hidden in pods so it could pass as a fancy executive transport. The flight suits' shoulder patches even featured a Wolf In Sheep's Clothing design.
Black Helicopter: It's black for a start... Designed to be a "wolf in sheep's clothing" as the flight suit badge references.
Airwolf was painted very dark brown with a white underside, referred to by its concept designer, Andy Probert, as the "Killer Whale" paint job. That's close enough.
It seems that the white underbelly is unnoticed by most people, as "The Lady" is defined by Caitlin as "The biggest, blackest helicopter I've ever seen" in Sweet Britches.
The fuel caps are also bright red. Not that the enemy ever seems to notice.
Blessed with Suck: Stringfellow Hawke. Almost everyone he's close to dies. There are 4 exceptions to this. 1: Dom. 2: Archangel. 3: Marella. 4: Caitlin.
And even Dominic dies eventually, at the start of Season 4. Because Anyone Can Die.
Code Name: "Archangel", real name Michael Coldsmith-Briggs.
Meaningful one at that- as in "Archangel Michael" and the former English name for the Russian city of Arkhangelsk.
And sadly, completely forgotten after season one. Seriously, it's like they wanted us to believe his name was Michael Archangel.
Coffin Contraband: In "Half-Pint", an American running a mercy operation to repatriate the bodies of American soldiers from Vietnam is actually using the coffins to smuggle cocaine.
Cool Plane: Airwolf. At the time the show was produced, the Bell 222 had a design that wasn't in-line with what most people thought of when they thought of helicopters, and the first run was only a handful. It would be extremely unlikely for the average viewer to have seen one or even know the design, minus the props stuck on for filming, was perfectly normal.
The actual chopper was destroyed in a fatal crash in 1992, being used as an air ambulance. A non-flying replica has been built and was recently on eBay.
Several computer games have had people add the distinctive chopper in mod form. Some mods also add the "Valley of the Kings," aka Monument Valley, so the player must actually find Airwolf in its lair.
This is also one of the more popular model/RC copter models.
Dirty Communists: Although some episodes go out of their way to have sympathetic Russian characters, most notably in "Proof Through the Night" when a deep-cover American agent was forced to come home...and the very Russian family he now had thanks to the length of his cover was forced with him.
Disney Death: String is the master of this. Often when it appears he can't outrun a missile, he'll dodge behind a sand dune or blow it up at the last minute, appearing to have been taken out with it. Airwolf then proceeds to fly over a sand dune or around a hill, in front of the badguy, Jason Voorhees-style. In one episode he does this with a B-52 bombing run simulating a nuclear attack.
Stringfellow Hawke: I was born in that briar patch!
Moffett also does this at the beginning of the pilot episode/movie.
Gatling Good: Averted; Airwolf is equipped with chain guns. Unfortunately "chain gun" is a registered trademark so no reference is made to them past the first episode, preventing them from becoming a trope of their own.
Good Colors, Evil Colors: All Firm agents wear white suits, though this may be more attributable to Archangel's preferences, since his own superiors wear perfectly ordinary business outfits. The one subordinate seen wearing a normal business suit turns out to be trying to steal Airwolf.
Guy in Back: Dom or Caitlin, but on one occasion Archangel.
Incedentially, we never get to see Caitlin as the Girl In Front, except once to get The Lady out of the Lair.
Instrumental Theme Tune: The legendary techno track that opens the show is one of the best and most memorable parts.
It Is Pronounced Tro PAY: "Saint John" is pronounced "Sinjin" by all characters (and the opening narrator from season 1) within all 4 seasons, but is always spelled out as "Saint John" in all the documents, and even in the English subtitles. That's because it's the actual pronunciation.
Just Plane Wrong: See that page for all the examples of "this would never work with a real aircraft", as well as "That's not an F-16! That's an F-4!" or "That's not a Mirage! That's a Hawker Hunter!".
Most fans of the show are blissfully unaware of these factors.
Man in White: Michael "Archangel" Coldsmith-Briggs, Hawke's contact with the FIRM, who not only wears white suits, but is flown around in a white helicopter and driven in a white limo, and aided by a string of exotic looking female assistants dressed in (wait for it...) white. Lampshaded several times by String and Dom.
Mecha-Mooks: Airwolf destroys hordes of enemy helicopters in many episodes, frequently with individual components that are superior to Airwolf's. However, as the bumper sticker that clearly belongs on Airwolf's fuselage reads: "Outnumbered? Yes. Outgunned? Maybe. Outclassed? Never."
This usually has more to do with String's flying abilities.
Archangel: They haven't invented a machine yet that can out-fly a good pilot.
Mnogo Nukes: Including "The Key" (season 4) and a "Delta III" SSBN in Season 3's "Crossover".
"Condemned" includes nuclear-tipped cruise missiles fired from a Soviet submarine.
Noodle Incident: An earlier project of Dr. Moffet's, codenamed "Proteus". It was mentioned in the pilot episode, and was at least part of the reason why Moffet blew up the Airwolf testing facility - the senator responsible for canceling Project Proteus was present to witness the tests.
Opening Narration: All episodes of Season One after the pilot opened with a briefing narrated by actor Lance Le Gualt, explaining Airwolf's purpose and how it was stolen by String.
Narrator: This briefing is from file A56-7W, classified top secret. Subject is Airwolf, a mach one plus attack helicopter, with the most advanced weapons systems in the air today...
Post Mortem Comeback: The mad creator of Airwolf had a program hidden inside it that nearly caused it to trigger World War III. The creator's been dead for quite a while, yet his revenge wasn't complete.
Redemption Equals Death: In "Once A Hero", Wallace reveals that he was responsible for betraying his fellow POWs by giving their escape plans to a prison-camp guard during the Vietnam War (albeit under extreme duress). When the team is ambushed by Laotian troops manning a hidden machinegun nest, he sacrifices himself by jumping into the machinegun nest with a live grenade while the enemy troops are reloading - and by taking out the enemy machinegunners, he's able to let the rest of the team escape with the prisoners they've rescued.
The MiG-23M "Flogger-B" (incorrectly designated as MiG-23S, the first production variant, which never entered operational service. That was Western Intelligence for you) features in a couple of episodes when Airwolf goes to the USSR, reflecting its role in the Voyska PVO.
Retool: Season 4, which changed the entire cast and slashed the budget to sub-Blake's 7 levels. Few liked it.
Season 4 was made for USA Network and all of the "flying" scenes consisted of either recycled footage from previous seasons, or use of an RC copter.
The Rival: In the Season 3 episode, "Airwolf 2", Harlan Jenkins challenges Hawke to a battle with his own copy of Airwolf.
Rule of Cool: It is not actually physically possible for a regular chopper to fly that fast. It gets a Hand Wave via dis-engaging blades and separate jet engines, and it even stays consistent; one episode has the system that handles this function damaged, and Dominic freaks out at the idea of going supersonic because the blades will rip off if they're still spinning. The aerial photography even changes to show which mode is in use, with camera trickery making the helicopter and the main rotor itself appear to be going appropriately slow or fast.
It's also not possible for some of the missile types to fit inside the ADF pod.
Science Marches On: Archangel's comment to String that they'll never know if a Vietnamese-American boy in one episode is really St. John's son (and Stringfellow's) nephew becomes Hilarious in Hindsight a quarter century on when words like "familial match" and "DNA" are terms known by a large segment of the viewing audience.
Shout-Out: "Stringfellow" was likely named after John Stringfellow, who built a steam-powered flying machine and achieved the first powered flight in 1848.
The name of his partner, Domenic Santini, is likely a reference to the novel (and later film) The Great Santini, about a military aviator.
All of the Mongoose Laser's test targets were recycled from the Airwolf II laser targets.
When they set the ADF pod to "sequential fire mode" in the episode "Wildfire", it's really the missile test from Airwolf II. The Redwolf's red nose is noticeable.
One Season 4 episode used the same shot of Airwolf lifting off out of the cave and firing its boosters (which itself was used in the season 4 opening titles) no less than three times, and not very far apart from each other, either.
Warring Without Weapons: In "Proof Through the Night", String is forced to leave Airwolf's weapons behind in order to have enough fuel and lift to carry passengers out of Russia. He's thus forced to be creative when Soviet troops show up. See Weaponized Exhaust below.
Weaponized Exhaust: In "Proof Through the Night," String uses the jet wash and turbulence from going supersonic to send a Soviet light chopper into a fatal spin. He also uses his jet wash to blow a truck on its side.
Weapons Understudies: Use of a US chopper type, the MD Hughes Defender, to play Soviet choppers- none of which even look like that.
The aircraft frequently identified as MiGs are F-86 Sabres and Hawker Hunters; in all fairness, both look somewhat similar to the MiG-15 and MiG-17, given that they were designed around the same time, and form followed function.