'Airwolf' Opened Fire on Communists, America's Enemies

'Airwolf' Opened Fire on Communists, America's Enemies

“They were no match for The Lady.” – Stringfellow Hawke

When one looks at “Airwolf,” one can see a highly-successful series – and an early glimpse at the formula show creator Donald Bellesario would use in building subsequent hits like “NCIS” and “JAG.”

You also have a clear sense in the show’s espionage missions that the United States is on the side of the angels – and a lot of the time, the bad guys were Communists, often Soviet or Cuban. It’s a breath of fresh air from the Che Guevara chic that emerged a number of years ago.

In other words – present this concept today, and most network TV executives might just say, “It’s not for us.”

Reboots of other franchises have happened for the silver screen or network TV (like “Charlie’s Angels” and “The A-Team”), but “Airwolf” languishes despite the fact that it was a unique show. This is a shame, because “Airwolf” has a fan base even today. Its theme music was arguably one of the most catchy of any TV series – and it made a comeback on iTunes!

One of the other unique things was the fact that despite Oscar-winner Ernest Borgnine (as Dominic Santini) and Jan-Michael Vincent (Stringfellow Hawke) headlining the show, they were arguably supporting the real star – The Lady, also known as Airwolf, a helicopter with the rough performance specs of an F/A-18. 

The closest any real helicopter has come to The Lady was the RAH-66 Comanche – and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld pulled the plug on the chopper in 2002 and went for a pedestrian replacement. That model flopped, leaving the troops still using the OH-58, which is very long in the tooth.

“Airwolf’s” choice in villains helped shore up its fan base. While many in Hollywood lionized the Sandinistas or the FMLN rebels in El Salvador, the “Short Walk to Freedom” episode featured a rebel group like them as bad guys. In fact, a left-wing professor who had seen them as harmless soon has his illusions shattered, and eventually is killed as he takes on some of the rebels.

Hawke and Santini help rescue the students lead astray by their professor. The students help get Airwolf to a location where she can be fixed. Eventually, The Lady delivers some righteous butt-stomping to the rebels.

Vincent’s portrayal of Stringfellow Hawke, a Vietnam veteran helicopter pilot whose brother is missing in action, is quite good. Hawke is not given the stereotypical Vietnam vet portrayal Hollywood dished out in the 1980s. Yes, Hawke’s brother is missing, and he is dealing with that, but he still holds down a job, and when his country needs help, from retrieving Airwolf from the Libyans, to carrying out dangerous missions, he does so.

With today’s special effects, a reboot of “Airwolf” could be a hit. There is a plethora of enemies that could be used – from Somali pirates, to Hugo Chavez, to the Chinese, or even Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The possibilities are limitless.

A new “star” will be needed – the original helicopter that portrayed Airwolf crashed in 1991 while serving as an air ambulance in Germany, but in the 28 years since “Airwolf” first came on TV screens, something could be done.

The biggest hurdle, though, is not finding a new “star” – or being able to recreate the dogfights. It’s combating Hollywood attitudes: All too often, the industry doesn’t let America be the good guys against someone like Chavez or Ahmadinejad. It’s a shame – because an “Airwolf” reboot on TV or the big screen could be awesome.


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