Airwolf is an American television series that ran from 1984 until 1987. The program centers on a high-tech military helicopter, code named Airwolf, and its crew as they undertake various missions, many involving espionage, with a Cold War theme.
The show was created by Donald P. Bellisario. The first three seasons star Jan-Michael Vincent, Ernest Borgnine, Alex Cord, and (from the second season onwards) Jean Bruce Scott. After the original series was cancelled, a fourth season, with an entirely new cast and on a much smaller budget, was filmed in Canada for the USA Network.
The show's distinctive musical score, which was originally orchestral but shifted to more synthesizer-based arrangements early in the second season, was composed and mainly conducted by Sylvester Levay. Udi Harpaz conducted the scores for many later second and third season episodes.
Airwolf, an advanced supersonic helicopter with stealth capabilities and a formidable arsenal, was designed by Dr. 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 CIA (a play on the term "the Company", a nickname for the CIA). As the series begins, Dr. 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 (codename "Archangel"). Moffet takes the gunship to Libya, where he begins performing acts of aggression - such as sinking an American destroyer - as a service for military strongman Muammar Gaddafi, who allows Moffet to keep Airwolf on Libyan soil.
Archangel recruits the reclusive Stringfellow Hawke, the chief test pilot during the development of Airwolf, to recover the gunship. Archangel leaves his assistant Gabrielle (Belinda Bauer) - who becomes Hawke's love interest - at Hawke's cabin to brief him for his mission. A 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, 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. However, 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" (visually modeled on Monument Valley). Hawke refuses to return Airwolf until the Firm can find and recover his brother, Saint John (pronounced "Sinjin"), 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, served as both ally and enemy for Hawke and Santini; when an opportunity to seize Airwolf presented itself, Firm operatives often took it. The first season of the series was 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 remained unconvinced, and Santini was skeptical also; this was explained in the Season 1 episode "Daddy's Gone a Hunt'n."
Early episodes frequently detailed the efforts of the United States government to secure 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 2 into a more light-hearted show, with Hawke and Santini being portrayed as cooperative partners with the Firm. This cooperative partnership persisted into the fourth season with the newly introduced "Company" and the new crew of Airwolf.
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 countries; it received a theatrical release in Indonesia. The show was broadcast in several international markets.
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. entitled "Two Birds of a Feather" (1983), starring William Lucking, which itself 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). 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 new 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, with a reduced budget, 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[volume & issue needed] that all 24 scripts were in place before the cast arrived, leaving the actors little room to develop their characters.
The Airwolf helicopter:
The flying Airwolf helicopter was actually a 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 was a supersonic armed helicopter that could 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.
Music and soundtrack release:
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 (from 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 1000 copies were made.
The first digital download-only EP release, entitled '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 release.
A further 42-track enhanced two-CD limited edition soundtrack album release called 'Airwolf Extended Themes' (which will contain both a CD of the series' main theme variants, and a CD of the episodic themes) is due for release in early 2014. Polish-born musician, Jan Michal Szulew, is the main arranger and orchestrator on the first CD, and Mark J. Cairns the arranger and producer of the second CD on this soundtrack.