Airwolf: 1980s Fun

I understand you young’uns like the 80s, right? Everybody knows about Miami Vice, the pastel portrait of the dark side. Not everybody knows about its polar opposite, the pro-military show Airwolf.

Wouldn’t mention it now, but it’s available again on the G4 cable channel and on DVD. I’ve had the nostalgic pleasure of watching a few episodes from Season 1 while trying to evade the horrors of the news.

The nominal stars are Jan Michael Vincent and Ernest Borgnine, one a good looking but wooden leading man and the other a renowned ham who never saw a bit of scenery he couldn’t chew.

This would be a problem if the real star wasn’t the helicopter called Airwolf, which in dramatic terms is Superman, who always saves the day at the end after the ritual ducking into a phone booth to change his clothes.

The show premise is absurd, of course. Test pilot Stringfellow Hawke (Vincent) steals Airwolf from the government and refuses to give it back until they account for his brother Sinjean, MIA in Vietnam. An over-the-top CIA agent named Archangel (Alex Cord), dressed always in white suits and an eyepatch, contrives to use the situation as a black op. Airwolf will fly covert missions from its hidden lair, and Archangel will pretend to look for Sinjean.

Yeah, the shows have plots of a sort — threats from evil dictators, arms dealers, KGB operatives and such — but they’re immaterial. What matters is that eventually Airwolf rises from its concealed columnar canyon, the electronic music rises with it, and hell is unleashed on the bad guys.

Because, you see, Airwolf is a technological wonder, designed to look civilian but supersonic and armed like an F-16. It’s also beautiful, shaped and painted like a flying killer whale, and its howl on acceleration is unearthly. Not to mention the music. And the oddly sensuous way it flew. Almost as if Airwolf had hips. The cast and crew called it “The Lady.”

It didn’t last long. Jan Michael Vincent had some personal problems. But in its first two seasons it was a patriot’s dream. The show never hesitated to kill the bad guys or blow them to smithereens. (Unlike the awful A-team. They remade that; why not this?)

Watching it now is a reminder of how much we’ve changed from a few decades ago. It’s also a reminder that there are some situations in which overwhelming military power is indeed a useful solution.

My wife thinks it’s silly. But she’s a woman. This is a guy thing. Look it up if you miss grinning at the end of a TV show.

4 thoughts on “Airwolf: 1980s Fun

  1. Yep, you’ve got us pegged, both Tim and me. I was absolutely hooked on the show, and the opening theme and title sequence still give me shivers, no kidding. My parents could tell you, I was downright obsessed with that helicopter. I built poor LEGO models of it, wanted to somehow build an RC model of one on my own. I loved jets, especially the SR-71 Blackbird (still do), but Airwolf had a special place in my heart. Listen to me, I’m gushing.

    Other things I loved about the show: Hawk playing the cello while he had some kind of rapport with the eagle above him; Dom’s irreverent sense of humor, my first exposure to a take-nothing-seriously adult; and yes, even the overdone CIA guy. So many scenes still stand out in my mind, like the guy aiming his pistol at Airwolf, trying to get the bullet right down that critical air intake tube. Just the beauty of the craft sitting in that cave structure with the sunlight beaming…

    Yeah, gushing. I loved that show, and I apparently still do. Too bad for Jan Michael Vincent, and too bad that they replaced it with a heaping pile starring the return Sinjean.

    Thanks for the memories today, RL. Now to scroll up and read your more serious posts. I always read chronologically…

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