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Series / Airwolf

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From the guys who brought you the Groundeagle and the Seahamster (l-r: Caitlin, Hawke, Dominic).
"This briefing is from file A56-7W. Classified Top Secret. Subject is Airwolf, a Mach 1+ attack helicopter with the most advanced weapons system in the air today. It's been hidden somewhere in the Western United States by its test pilot Stringfellow Hawke. Hawke has promised to return Airwolf only if we can find his brother, St. John, an MIA in Vietnam. We suspect that Archangel, deputy director of the agency that built Airwolf, is secretly helping Hawke in return for Hawke flying Airwolf on missions of national concern."

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 comic book anthology based on the show, Airwolf:Airstrikes, was published in 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 qualify.
  • Actor Allusion: the pilot episode "Shadow of the Hawke" takes its name from the 1976 film "Shadow of the Hawk", both starring Jan Michael Vincent.
  • Adjective Noun Fred / Market-Based Title: The Japanese dub is known as "Chou Onsoku Kougeki Helinote  Airwolf".
  • Affirmative Action Girl: Caitlin joins the guys in the second season.
  • Ambiguous Situation: At the conclusion of the fourth season opener "Blackjack" it is left unclear what happens to Stringfellow after St. John takes him from the hospital. St. John returns to the lair in Airwolf alone telling his friends there was something he had to do, and the matter is quietly dropped. Caitlin's fate is also left unknown whilst Archangel has been redeployed to the Middle East.
  • 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 autopilot 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: Somewhat. "Stringfellow" isn't really the name most people would associate with a badass action hero. But Hawke most certainly is.
  • Attack Its Weak Point: The normally bullet-proof Airwolf can be destroyed by even a pistol round if it gets into the mid-air refuelling intake.
  • Belly Dancer: In the pilot episode "Shadow of the Hawke", a couple of CIA operatives disguise themselves as dancers in a Libyan nightclub.
  • Bittersweet Ending: The ending of the pilot episode. The Airwolf is recovered, but Gabrielle is dead.
    Archangel: "Did...she suffer?"
    (long pause)
    Hawke: "What difference does it make?"
    Archangel: "Dammit, I sent her out there, I wanna know!"
    (long pause)
    Hawke: No... no, she didn't suffer.
    Archangel: "....thank God for that."
  • Black Helicopter: It's black for a start,note  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.
  • Casino Episode: One episode has a mob-run casino seek to expand by muscling out local shops and marginalizing the townsfolk. When corrupt police won't help, More Dakka solves the problem.
  • Cloak and Dagger: The Firm is a fictional spy agency.
  • Computer Virus: Dr. Moffett left a virus in Airwolf's computer system that activates in "Moffett's Ghost", in case he didn't succeed in stealing Airwolf. As the trope hadn't become common knowledge at the time, exposition on what a computer virus was had to be included.
  • Code Name: "Archangel," real name Michael Coldsmith-Briggs III..
  • 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 was written, the spy's family aren't thrilled to getting on Airwolf to begin a new life in the land of hot dogs 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. The russians in 'Condemned' start off acting like they are going to be this but they turn out to be quite reasonable people.
  • 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!
  • Dodge by Braking: A common combat tactic was to slam open Airwolf's air brakes causing a pursuing aircraft to overshoot. Justified because Airwolf is a helicopter and can come to a dead stop in midair, while conventional aircraft cannot.
  • 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.
      Marella: I'm not going to get killed.
      Hawke: Don't say that.
      Marella: Which woman did?
      Hawke: ...all of them.
    • 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.
  • Downer Ending: A post-series variation of the trope. While many of the aircraft featured on the show are still flying in various roles to this day, the Bell 222A’s used as Airwolf, as well as its on-screen rival, Redwolf (or Airwolf II), suffered sad fates:
    • The flying Airwolf was registration (or “tail number”) 'N3176S' (serial number 47085). After Season 3, the aircraft’s external modifications were removed. It was repainted, and sold to a German firm, with the tail number D-HHSD. On June 6, 1992, while being used as an air ambulance and flying in heavy fog and developing thunderstorm, it impacted a mountainside and was destroyed, killing its 3 crewmembers.
    • The non-flying “mock-up”, was tail number N9988K (serial number 47001, the first production Bell 222A). This was used for nearly all interior filming as well as some exterior shots when needed during Season 1-3 (Yes, sorry to say - the flying Airwolf never had the rear command center installed), as well as ALL the filming of Season 4 as the production couldn’t afford the flying Airwolf. After the series conclusion, the mock-up was then broken up, and any usable parts sold to other available 222’s.
    • Airwolf’s “evil twin”, Redwolf (or Airwolf II), was tail number N1074T (serial number 47015). In April of 1987, while on a post-maintenance flight over Texas, the drive system for the main rotor failed, causing total loss of control. It then impacted the ground, killing 2 crewmembers.
  • 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.
  • Equipment Upgrade: Lasers in the Airwolf world are powerful, so the Airwolf itself gets a laser weapon in Season 4.
  • 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
  • Exact Words: Stringfellow agreed to return Airwolf to the Firm, and presumably the Company in the final season. They never, at any time, said it would go any further than that, allowing the Company to reassign it to his brother and leave most of the arrangement between String and Dom in place effectively permanently, with the only difference being their handler knows where Airwolf is at all times.
  • Eyepatch of Power: Dark Individual Lens Of Power, as worn by Archangel after losing an eye when Moffett first stole Airwolf. 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.
  • 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.
  • Grand Theft Prototype: The Pilot Movie involved Airwolf being stolen by Moffett during the prototype stage and flown to Libya. Stringfellow is recruited to steal it back.
  • Gunship Rescue: Airwolf has a tendency to pull these off.
  • Guy in Back: Dom or Caitlin, but on two occasions, Archangel.
  • 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: 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.
  • In Space, Everyone Can See Your Face: Airwolf doesn't go into space, but the crew's helmets have dark visors that can be sealed in case of pressure loss, but are normally open to allow the actor's eyes to be seen, though the helmets do cover the actors' lower faces like a conventional aircraft flight helmet.
  • Instrumental Theme Tune: The legendary techno track that opens the show is one of the best and most memorable parts. The original from the pilot episode was hybrid synth orchestra.
  • 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!".
  • Life Imitates Art: A 1984 episode was entitled "Flight 093 Is Missing".
  • 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.
  • Mecha Show: After a fashion. While no actual mecha appear, the way the titular helicopter is treated as the main "character", and is able to do things no real helicopter could, is straight out of this genre.
  • Mook Mobile: 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.
  • More Dakka: The Airwolf's chainguns are 4 .50 machine guns and a pair of 30mm cannons to unleash a hail of bullets on the enemy.
  • Murphy's Bullet: Invoked in "Shadow of the Hawke". The Big Bad Dr. Moffett positions his helicopter to the exact spot where it'd be vulnerable to a Golden BB, counting that, because of Finagle's Law, it won't miss.
  • Myth Arc: From the first episode to the end of the third season, the myth arc is Stringfellow Hawke knows the Firm want Airwolf back, but he wants his brother back, so refuses to return it until they confirm his recovery. At the start of the fourth season, St. John is rescued, meaning that the government can reclaim Airwolf at their leisure. However, all they do is place their own crew in it, which happens to include St. John and Dom's niece, and continue the arrangement as is, since no-one said they would have to return it to the US Military, only that it be returned to the Firm/Company once St. John was returned alive.
  • Nigh-Invulnerable: One episode shows how tough the Airwolf is. Captured by Soviets, they try to enter the locked Airwolf by using a diamond drill on it. The only result is a broken drill. Pretty much the only things that are a threat to Airwolf are missiles and laser beams.
  • 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, Dr. Moffet was the designer - and he destroyed the facility where it was designed and manufactured in the pilot episode just before stealing it and defecting to Lybia. And Hawke killed him while retrieving Airwolf. It's later revealed that Airwolf has it's design plans stored in it's onboard computer.
  • 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.
    • Only partly a noodle incident; though we never learn anything about Proteus itself, Gabrielle mentions Moffet killed women there in the same way he was doing in Libya, implying Proteus was cancelled because Moffet was discovered to be a serial killer. Which makes the FIRM Too Dumb to Live for trusting him to design Airwolf.
  • 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 LeGault, 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...
  • The Other Darrin: In the odd chapter in seasons 1 and 2, when we see St. John Hawke he's played by Christopher Connelly. Enter the fourth season, and the character, now the series lead, is played by Barry Van Dyke.
  • 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.
  • Recycled In Space: Knight Rider....WITH A HELICOPTER!
  • 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.
  • 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 "
  • Roaring Rampage of Revenge: Hawk does this full-on after Gabrielle dies due to Moffett’s torture of her. He plows through numerous Libyan tanks, aircraft, and surface-to-air missiles, then finally comes to a tense stand-off with Moffett, all while stoically not saying a word. Before Moffett can use his pistol in a near-miraculous, last-ditch attempt to bring down Airwolf, note  Hawke unloads Airwolf’s ENTIRE remaining missile cache on him...even continuing to pull the trigger switch after all are depleted. Dom finally breaks Hawke out of his daze...
    "'s done."
  • 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.
  • Sequel Hook: The Video Will episode listed below ends with one of these, but nothing ever comes of it.
  • 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.
  • The Sociopath: Moffet. The only reason he does anything is for the fun of it, and people tend to die as a result.
  • Stock Footage: The first season didn't use any stock footage, and the later seasons used old shots quite rarely. Thanks to budget cuts, however, the use of recycled footage became truly obnoxious in the fourth season. The second season's "Flight #093 Is Missing" makes heavy use of footage from Airport'77 for its story of Caitlin having the misfortune to be a passenger of a flight that's hijacked and crashes into the ocean...
    • 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.
  • Super Prototype: Airwolf is a unique prototype helicopter with superior weapons to anything in the air.
  • Superior Successor: There were 2 helicopters made as an attempt to improve on the Airwolf. The HX-1 had the advantage of having side-mounted rocket launchers, so it can pump out more missiles than the Airwolf. Meanwhile there's the Redwolf which is a duplicate (or as much they can reproduce) of the "Lady" and then added a laser weapon capable of harming the Airwolf.
  • Suspiciously Similar Substitute: Saint John Hawke, a replacement for Stringfellow.
  • 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: This is 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.
    • Taken to the extreme in the pilot episode due to it being very personal: 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.
      Dom: String... it's done.
  • Too Dumb to Live: The Sheriff in "Sweet Britches" stands out. The Dirty Cop in that episode is overflown by an armed helicopter that blows out his windows, destroys two trucks and threatens to continue unless he releases his hostage. Mind you, he was facing life in prison or death row, but he would've at least had a chance to get away. While his cohorts had the sense to run out the back, he shot his own deputy and just keeps shooting.
  • Translation Convention: Largely averted.
  • Video Will: Despite being killed very, very dead in the pilot, Dr. Moffet managed to return as a villain in "Moffet's Ghost", using a twisted version of this trope.
  • Villainous Valor: Moffet again, at the end of the pilot, when he finds himself facing an enraged Stringfellow piloting Airwolf: he coolly tries to shoot a bullet into the chopper's refueling intake. Had he succeeded, it would have been a One-Hit Kill.
  • 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.