Pensacola: Wings of Gold was a military aviation themed American TV show, that aired in First-Run Syndication for three seasons from 1997 to 1999. The show starred James Brolin as Marine fighter pilot Lt. Col. Bill Kelly. The first season also featured Kathryn Morris of Cold Case fame as well as Kristanna Loken as Kelly's daughter Jeanine.
Season one was an otherwise average show about a group of Marine Corps aviators led by Lt Col Kelly, who take on a variety of special missions, some of them involving air operations, and others involving ground ops. The justification for using them, being that "every Marine is a rifleman" was extended further to imply that every Marine is as good as the actual infantry at ground combat tactics. This led to the show becoming basically a live action clone of G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero.
However, by season two, the show completely retooled itself into one about Marine fighter pilot trainees, featuring a completely new cast of characters, with only the Lt Col Kelly character, returning as the training squadron's commander. The action was toned down in favor of more dramatic storylines about various situations that the pilot trainees got into, in and out of their training program.
The third season, picks up a few years after the trainee pilots of the previous season graduated and deployed with active duty fighter squadrons. Lt Col Kelly is now given command of a composite squadron called a Marine Expeditionary Unit Air Combat Element. This squadron has fighters, transport helicopters and helicopter gunships operating together, and in a more intertwined role with infantrymen. This requires the squadron to train extensively before they can deploy. And three of his former fighter pilot trainees are now assigned to this squadron under him - necessitating them to be under his tutelage again! It therefore continues the second season trend of focusing on the pilots training missions and their off duty lives.
Tropes found in this show are
- The Ace: Kelly earns his fifth air to air kill in season three, and gets a lot of media recognition for it.
- Action Girl: Lieutenant Annalisa "Stinger" Lindstromm in season one. Lt then Capt Alex "Ice" Jensen in seasons two and three, gravitates towards this, but doesn't actually see any combat.
- Artistic License – Military: In the second season, the students are shown learning carrier landings and night traps for the first time - in an F/A-18 hornet Fleet Replacement Squadron. In actuality, student naval aviators must qualify for carrier landings and night traps - and earn the "wings of gold" on a T-45 Goshawk Advanced Jet Trainer before they are sent to a Fleet Replacement Squadron to learn to operate the aircraft they've qualified for. So these trainees should already have earned those wings of gold and be proficient at carrier landings, before getting into this squadron.
- Also, the Marine Corps doesn't train pilots to fly Hornets in Naval Air Station Pensacola, as that isn't even marine owned. Basic flight training and Navy Aviation OCS is conducted there. The Marine Corps F/A-18 Fleet Replacement Squadron is based in MCAS Miramar in San Diego - the erstwhile home of the TOPGUN school.
- The Atoner: Quite a few are encountered in Season 3. The gunship pilot Captain Eddie Tirelli comes from a Mafia family, and is in the corps to make up for their misdeeds. Burner, the hotshot pilot finally decides to turn in his gold wings and get involved in community outreach for troubled children, as a way to pay it forward. A one off character in a racism centered episode, has a Swastika tattoo specifically to go undercover for NCIS and infiltrate white supremacist gangs in the Marine Corps - to make up for him having Been in a skinhead gang before enlisting.
- Captain Smooth and Sergeant Rough: Lt Col Bill Kelly plays the captain smooth role, while his XO Major Lewis plays the hardass sergeant rough role.
- Colonel Badass: Kelly is this throughout. Major Lewis then becomes one in Season 3 when he gets promoted.
- Daddy Issues: Nearly everyone has them. Spoon is trying to get out from under the shadow of his controlling retired marine colonel father, and is competing with his dad for the affection of Teri. Burner has issues with his alcoholic drug addicted mother. Ice's mother berates her for not choosing a more traditionally feminine career, while Capone Tirelli's dad is in prison for racketeering. Even Kelly has a troubled relationship with his daughter Jeanine.
- Foolish Sibling, Responsible Sibling: Bill Kelly is the responsible one, compared to his habitual offender brother. Eddie Tirelli is the responsible marine officer, compared to his brother, who attempted to take over the family's crime syndicate, but his hot head made him enemies with the Russian mob.
- Inter-Service Rivalry: A lot of hype is generated about the fact that Ice is competing against a female Air Force fighter pilot, call sign Blaze for possible selection into a Mars landing attempt. The newspapers splash headlines proclaiming “Fire vs Ice!!” Ultimately, Ice bows out, claiming that the attempt to land on Mars takes five years, and in those five years, a lot could happen on Earth.
- Malcolm Xerox: An enlisted avionics tech gets accused of sabotage and theft in a Season 3 episode and calls in his lawyer sister who is one of these.
- Military Brat: Tucker "Spoon" Henry III. His grandfather was a Navy Vice Admiral, while his father made Lieutenant Colonel in the Marine Corps before retiring. Spoon even went to Annapolis like his father and grandfather.
- The Mountains of Illinois: Aircraft are seen flying over rugged desert terrain, a far cry from Pensacola’s flat topography and lush vegetation.
- The Heart / Team Mom : Kate, the widow of a Marine fighter pilot, who now owns a bar called The Bucket. She serves both roles to the fighter training squadron and to the ACE.
- Male Gaze: For a show about fighter pilots, there are a lot of shots of bikini clad women showing off their cleavage. Understandable, since producer Stu Segall was formerly an adult movie director.
- O.O.C. Is Serious Business: The normally cheerful and upbeat Kate is surly and snappy after a date with a visiting marine pilot. It is because she was date raped.
- Put on a Bus: Burner turns in his wings, quitting Marine Corps Aviation, although not resigning his commission, thereby remaining in the Corps. Burner transfers initially to community relations to work with troubled kids like he once was.
- The Bus Came Back: Burner reappears later in the season, having apparently transferred to special operations. He serves literally as the point man for a counter-drug operation the MEU is tasked with.
- Rank Up: Burner, Spoon and Ice have all been promoted to Captain by Season 3. Lewis ranked up to Lieutenant Colonel. Whether Kelly has ranked up is left as a Cliffhanger.
- See the Whites of Their Eyes: Capone switched from fighters to Cobra gunships because he “wants to see the fear in the enemy’s eyes before I kill him!”
- Tyrant Takes the Helm: The MEU commander Colonel Drayton fractures his leg during an exercise, so a different colonel takes command for a big military exercise, where the MEU finally proves to the top brass that it is satisfactorily trained and deployment ready. This new colonel runs the composite squadron ragged, constantly berates Kelly and Lewis, and even treats them as personal servants. His micromanaging style affects performance, and the MEU is in danger of flunking the exercise, and as a result being disbanded. Col Drayton needs to show up, limping with a cane, to wrest control of his MEU back from this guy and salvage the situation.
- Wet Blanket Girlfriend: Teri starts fretting about how dangerous flying fighters is, and starts trying to convince Spoon to turn in his wings. He hasn’t relented so far.