When the high-tech police helicopter flick Blue Thunder became a box-office hit in the summer of 1983, the networks took notice. The following January, CBS and ABC faced off against each other with competing one-hour series built around this concept. ABC produced an official television adaptation of Blue Thunder but was beat in the ratings by CBS with an original series entitled Airwolf.
Created by Donald Bellisario, Airwolf focused on reclusive pilot Stringfellow Hawke, hired by top-secret government agency “The Firm” to steal back Airwolf, a high-tech attack helicopter that was stolen by its creator for the purpose of selling it to Libya. Hawke successfully undertook the mission with his old friend Dominic Santini, but refused to return Airwolf to “The Firm” unless they helped him find his long-lost brother, a soldier who was declared missing in action during the Vietnam War.
“The Firm” decided to make a deal, letting Stringfellow search for his brother if he would continue to work for them by flying dangerous missions using the Airwolf. Hawke agreed to the deal and continued to work with Santini as well as Marella, an agent of “The Firm.” Caitlin O’Shannessy, a female helicopter pilot with an attitude, was later added to the team, and Michael Briggs (code name “Archangel”) served as Hawke’s governmental liaison with The Firm.
The show continued for another two seasons after its victory over the Blue Thunder series, sending Hawke and Santini into hostile situations with only the power of a souped-up, whirling machine of death as their defense (which, not surprisingly, was usually enough). Airwolf ended its network run in 1986, but when cable’s USA Network picked the show up for reruns, it decided the show needed an additional season for its syndicated run. A new fourth season was produced with a brand-new cast and crew, now focusing on St. John Hawke, Stringfellow’s long-lost brother, who took over the missions using Airwolf after an explosion injured Stringfellow and killed Dominic. He was joined by Santini’s niece Jo as co-pilot as he continued to fly on missions for “The Company,” who used Jason Lock as their contact with the pilots.
The series is remembered by action fans for the awesome power of the Airwolf helicopter and a memorably stoic performance from Jan-Michael Vincent as its vaguely anti-social, cello-playing pilot. Creator Donald Belisarius had previously co-created Magnum P.I. with Glen Larson and would go on to create fan favorite Quantum Leap and JAG, another successful action series, proving there was still plenty of firepower left in his own personal Airwolf.
USA / CBS – USA Cable Network – Universal – Bellisarius Prod. / x50m-e / Broadcast 22 January 1984 – 23 July 1986 on CBS and 29 September 1986 – 2 October 1988
Creator: Donald Bellisario / Executive Producers: Bernard Kawalski, Donald Bellisario
JAN-MICHAEL VINCENT as Stringfellow Hawke
ERNEST BORGNINE as Dominic Santini
ALEX CORD as Michael Archangel
JEAN BRUCE SCOTT as Caitlibn O’Shaughnessy
DEBORAH PRATT as Marella
BARRY VAN DYKE as St John Hawke
ANTHONY SHERWOOD as Jason Lock
MICHELE SCARIBELLI as Jo Santini
GERAINT WYN DAVIES as Major Mike Rivers