Series / Airwolf
From the guys who brought you the Groundeagle and the Seahamster
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 ended, 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. Airwolf itself was a Bell 222A helicopter with extensive cosmetic modifications to make it appear to be a futuristic military prototype, the actual aircraft was destroyed after the end of the series in a fatal crash while being used as an air ambulance.

An Airwolf comic book series is scheduled to launch in fall of 2015.

This show contains examples of:

  • 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.
  • Affirmative Action Girl: Caitlin joins the guys in the second season.
  • America Saves the Day: Sort of. The Firm is big on doing this and String is an American, but he also doesn't have a lot of loyalty for his government and does not consider himself as representing the country.
  • And Starring: "With" Alex Cord "And" Ernest Borgnine as Dominic Santini.
  • Artificial Intelligence: 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.
  • 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 McCool 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.
  • Bland-Name Product: One episode shows a package of what is very clearly Red Man chewing tobacco, but with the name on the label changed to "Big Chief."
  • Brought Down to Badass: Under normal circumstances, Airwolf is basically unstoppable and can take out just about any other aircraft there is. In one episode, the team is forced to strip all of the weapons in order to allow for more fuel and passengers (they had to fly all the way into Russia to rescue an outed spy) and even without any weapons at all they still managed to down an armed helicopter, flip two jeeps just by hitting the boosters near them, and outrun four MIG fighters.
  • Cloak & Dagger: The Firm is a fictional spy agency.
  • Code Name: "Archangel", real name Michael Coldsmith-Briggs.
  • 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.
  • Companion Cube: Dom Santini treats the titular helicopter this way, referring to it as "Lady" and actually having conversations with it from time to time. Although Airwolf does have a rudimentary A.I. it is not (as far as we know) actually intelligent.
  • Cool Plane: The titular helicopter is heavily armed above and beyond having nearly infinite ammo capacity, can take abuse that few other helicopters can survive, and with the help of Nitro Boost can even go supersonic.
  • 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.
    • In a rather notable subversion in that same episode, especially considering the period in which the episode the written, the spy's family aren't thrilled to getting on Airwolf to begin a new life in the land of hotdogs and apple pie. They are all proud Russians and they don't take the news that the man they thought was a friend and family member is an American spy well, with both his daughter and his brother-in-law outright considering him a traitor. Yet they are portrayed mostly sympathetically.
  • 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.
  • Dodge by Braking
  • Doom Magnet:
    • 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.
    • Caitlin develops traces of this as well, considering the number of love interests she's had who have either died or revealed themselves as Evil All Along.
  • Elaborate Underground Base: Although there's not much in there, it's inside an extinct volcano and Airwolf takes off through the top.
    • There's the ruins of a cliff dweller city in the Lair. Unfortunately, these ruins seem to be more of Easter Egg than anything else. Still, they could have been used as a base if needed.
  • Enemy Scan: Arguably one of the chopper's coolest features.
  • Evil Twin:
    • Airwolf II (AKA: Redwolf) has a red nose and underside. And a laser.
    • The digital Airwolf from "Mind of the Machine".
    • The Scorpion (AKA Airwolf III) in season 4. Recycled footage of Airwolf II
  • Eyepatch of Power: Dark Individual Lens Of Power, as worn by Archangel. He also has a medical eyepatch in parts 1 and 2 and the early parts of part 3.
  • Faked Rip Van Winkle: On Stringfellow, which involves a fake news story about Charles and Diana separating.
  • Failure Is the Only Option: Once Stringfellow finds his brother, he has to return Airwolf to the FIRM...until the 4th season, anyway.
  • Fair Cop: Caitlin used to work for the Texas Highway Patrol.
  • Follow the Leader: Airwolf is one of several shows based around Cool Helicopters that were inspired by the 1983 film Blue Thunder.
  • 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.
  • Getting Crap Past the Radar: Archangel commenting on his aide's "above-average oral dexterity". The Blooper Reel from that episode must have been a hoot.
  • 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.
  • Gunship Rescue: Airwolf has a tendency to pull these off.
  • Guy in Back: Dom or Caitlin, but on one occasion Archangel.
  • Heroic BSOD: Hawke in the pilot episode suffers this after Gabrielle dies. He takes out his rage by getting into Airwolf, tracking down the villain who killed her, and pulling the trigger on his sidewinder missiles until it clicks.
  • Hunting the Most Dangerous Game: The episode "Sweet Britches" involves the African Hunt Club Ranch, a safari club where customers can pay to hunt wild game from Africa, and occasionally prisoners from the local county jail.
  • Hypocrite: Unfortunately, yes, on one occasion. In the episode "Santini's Millions," Dom ends up on the board of directors of a major corporation (it makes sense in context) and ends up derailing his first board meeting when he realizes the company is charging the U.S. Air Force $16,000 a piece for aircraft sensors that he himself recently bought for Santini Air for $160, and he yells at them for ripping off the American taxpayers. Three episodes later, in "Severance Pay" Dom reveals that he's charging the Firm $4,000 for repairs to Airwolf despite having fixed it himself with parts from a coffee percolator. (The Firm does receive government funding, also, so this is also ripping off the taxpayers.) Sure, the amount is far less, but Dom is still doing the same thing he previously complained about other people doing.
  • 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!".
  • Literary Allusion Title: "Proof Through The Night", a rather clever pun as it involves Airwolf having to carry proof about Soviet chemical weapon testing through the night out of the USSR.
  • 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: Thanks in great part to Hawke's flying skills, 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."
    Archangel: They haven't invented a machine yet that can out-fly a good pilot.
  • No-Gear Level: 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.
  • No Plans, No Prototype, No Backup: Justified because Airwolf is the prototype, and Dr. Moffet destroyed the facility where it was designed and manufactured in the pilot episode.
  • 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.
  • Number Two: Marella seems to be this for Archangel.
  • 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.
  • Red Scare: The main villains.
  • Reporting Names
  • Retool: Season 4 was made for USA Network that brought in a major revision of the show. All of the "flying" scenes consisted of either recycled footage from previous seasons, or use of an RC copter due to having almost No Budget.
  • The Rival:
    • In the Season 3 episode, "Airwolf 2", Harlan Jenkins challenges Hawke to a battle with his own copy of Airwolf.
    • The HX-1 is said by Archangel that "pound for pound, she may be even more deadly than 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.
  • 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, Dominic Santini, is likely a reference to the novel (and later film) The Great Santini, about a military aviator.
  • Stock Footage Only became truly obnoxious in later episodes.
    • 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.
  • Suspiciously Similar Substitute: Saint John.
  • Theme Music Power-Up: in some cases, quite literally, the tune being sometimes played as Airwolf's engines are started up.
  • There Is No Kill Like Overkill: When Stringfellow corners Moffett, he unloads Airwolf's entire weapons payload into his Jeep, with Dom only able to close his eyes in the back seat as String continues to fire everything with Berserker Tears until he's squeezing the trigger repeatedly on an empty barrel.
    • Hawke's usual operating procedure. He does try to avoid bloodshed when he can, and he gives enemies the chance to surrender whenever possible, but when he shoots he doesn't just shoot to kill, he makes sure no one is walking away.
  • Translation Convention: Largely averted.
  • Video Will: despite being killed very, very dead in the pilot, Dr. Moffet managed to return as a villain in one episode, using a twisted version of this trope.
  • Waistcoat of Style: Archangel.
  • 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 Hughes 500 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.
  • 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.

Alternative Title(s): Air Wolf