|Donald P. Bellisario
|Theme music composer
|Country of origin
|No. of seasons
|No. of episodes
|January 22, 1984 –
August 7, 1987
Airwolf is an American action military drama television series. It centers on a high-technology Attack helicopter, code-named Airwolf, and its crew. They undertake various exotic missions, many involving espionage, with a Cold War theme. It was created by Donald P. Bellisario and was produced over four seasons, running from January 22, 1984, until August 7, 1987.
The main cast for seasons one through three consist of Jan-Michael Vincent, Ernest Borgnine, Alex Cord, Deborah Pratt (who left after season 2 when Bellisario left the series), and Jean Bruce Scott (who was added as a regular in seasons two and three). The program originally aired on CBS and was canceled after the third season. USA Network picked up the show for a fourth season that was completely recast, with Jan-Michael Vincent having only a minor role in the first episode. The fourth season was filmed in Canada, with the aerial scenes relying heavily on stock footage or repeated footage from the first three seasons.
The distinctive musical score was originally orchestral, shifted to more synthesizer-based arrangements early in the second season, and was composed and conducted mainly by Sylvester Levay. Udi Harpaz conducted the scores for many later second- and third-season episodes.
The fictional Airwolf is described as an advanced prototype supersonic helicopter with stealth capabilities and a formidable arsenal. Airwolf was designed by Charles Henry Moffet (David Hemmings)—a genius with a psychopathic taste for torturing and killing women—and built by "the Firm", a division of the Central Intelligence Agency (a play on the term "the Company", a nickname for the CIA). Moffet and his crew steal Airwolf during a live-fire weapons test. During the theft, Moffet opens fire on the Firm's bunker, killing a United States Senator and seriously injuring Firm deputy director Michael Coldsmith-Briggs III (code name "Archangel"). Moffet takes Airwolf to Libya, where he begins performing acts of aggression—such as sinking an American destroyer—as a service for Khaddafi, in exchange for giving Moffet sanctuary on Libyan soil.
Archangel recruits the reclusive Stringfellow Hawke (Vincent), a former test pilot during the development of Airwolf, to recover the gunship. Archangel leaves his assistant Gabrielle Ademaur (Belinda Bauer)—who becomes Hawke's love interest—at Hawke's cabin to brief him for his mission. One week later, after an undercover operative in Libya is killed in the line of duty, Gabrielle is sent in undercover and Hawke is sent in sooner than originally planned. With the assistance of pilot and father figure Dominic Santini (Borgnine), Hawke finds and recovers Airwolf, but Gabrielle is tortured and killed by Moffet. Hawke obliterates Moffet with a hail of missiles from Airwolf before returning to the United States. Instead of returning the gunship, Hawke and Santini booby-trap Airwolf and hide it in "the Lair", a large natural cave in the remote "Valley of the Gods" (actually filmed in visually similar Monument Valley). Hawke refuses to return Airwolf until the Firm can find and recover his brother, St. John (Christopher Connelly), who has been missing in action since the Vietnam War. To obtain 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.
The Firm, during the first three seasons, serve as both ally and enemy for Hawke and Santini; when an opportunity to seize Airwolf arises, Firm operatives often took it. The first season of the series is 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 remains unconvinced, and Santini is skeptical. Early episodes detail the efforts of the United States government to recover 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 portrayed as cooperative partners with the Firm. This persisted into the fourth season with the newly introduced "Company" and the new crew of Airwolf.
Main article: List of Airwolf episodes
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 other countries; it received a theatrical release in Indonesia. The show was broadcast in several international markets. Parts of the series were filmed in Monument Valley, Utah.
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. titled "Two Birds of a Feather" (1983), starring William Lucking, which, in turn, 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.
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). Series star Jan-Michael Vincent's problems with alcoholism also contributed to the show's problems. Bernard Kowalski stepped in as executive producer for the third season, but the ratings remained low and the series was canceled by CBS.
The USA Network funded a 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 on a reduced budget that was 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 that all 24 scripts were in place before the cast arrived, leaving the actors little room to develop their characters.
Main article: Airwolf (helicopter)
The flight-capable Airwolf helicopter was a cosmetically modified 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 is a supersonic armed helicopter that can 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.
Season 1 (CBS, 1984) – two-hour pilot and ten additional episodes.
Seasons 2–3 (CBS, 1984–1986) – two seasons of 22 episodes each.
Season 4 (USA Network, mid-1987) – 24 episodes, bringing the total hours to 80.
Airwolf Themes is a two-CD soundtrack album for the television series released in February, 1999. The 73-minute soundtrack was created over a five-year period by a fan, Northern Ireland-based graphic designer Mark J. Cairns, in collaboration with original composer Levay, with a foreword by the series' creator, Bellisario.
After the original CBS series was cancelled in 1986, Cairns headed the International Airwolf Appreciation Association for nearly 10 years (1988–1998). He decided in early 1994 to produce his own high-quality soundtrack for the series using the episodic scores from the three seasons of the series to create the first 22 synthesizer-based tracks on the soundtrack, including various medleys and character themes. Only one thousand copies were made.
The first digital download-only EP release, titled Airwolf Main Themes was made available in September 2009. It contains four tracks based on variations of the series' Main Theme and was a preview of the future Extended Themes release.
A further 42-track, 146-minute, enhanced two-CD, limited-edition soundtrack album release called Airwolf Extended Themes (containing both a CD of the series' main theme variants, and a second CD of the episodic themes) was released on March 26, 2014. Bulgarian-Polish musician, Jan Michal Szulew, was the main arranger and orchestrator on the first CD, and Mark J. Cairns the arranger and overall producer of the second CD on this soundtrack. Two thousand copies were made.
During the original series run, two books were published. Both were written by Ron Renauld and are titled Airwolf and Trouble From Within, respectively. A graphic novel was published in August 2015, titled Airwolf Airstrikes, which recasts Archangel as a woman, and Dominic Santini's son, who is black.
A series of tie-in novels was printed by Star, adapted from the scripts of various episodes, and coloring books for children (printed in the UK by World Publishing), and a UK annual, which, though 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.
Universal Studios has released the first 3 seasons of Airwolf on DVD in regions 1, 2, and 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), including 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 single-disc set features the two-hour pilot tele-film fully restored and uncensored. It also contains special features including a new interview with Ernest Borgnine.
On March 8, 2016, it was announced that Mill Creek Entertainment had acquired the rights to the series and would release Airwolf - The Complete Series on DVD and Blu-ray for the first time on May 3, 2016. They also re-released the first season on DVD on the same day.
Fabulous Films have released an all-new, High Definition Series 1–3 Blu-ray (Region B) box-set for the UK market during April 2014. The new HD transfers were created by Universal Studios.
Fabulous Films have since released single season Blu-ray (Region B) box sets, plus the equivalent DVD (Region 2) season box sets including, for the first time, a Canadian Airwolf II Season 4 set from the newly restored prints.