The stars of Airwolf were Jan-Michael Vincent, Ernest Borgnine and Alex Cord. Jan-Michael Vincent had been in movies for many years. His wholesome American good looks led to his discovery as an actor. He guest starred in many television episodes and appeared in movies such as The Mechanic (1972) with Charles Bronson, White Line Fever (1975), and the miniseries The Winds of War (1983). His outstanding performance in The Winds of War won him the leading role in Airwolf. Ernest Borgnine’s acting career took off when he portrayed Sgt. “Fatso” Judson in From Here to Eternity (1953), and he is still acting today. Alex Cord guest starred in many television series. However, it was the movie Synanon (1965) in which he played a dope addict that brought him notice. I saw him portray the murderer in Edgar Allan Poe’s short story The Tell Tale Heart in 1971 with Sam Jaffe as the old man. His performance was excellent and one I will always remember.
Airwolf was the code name of a high-tech military helicopter created for the United States. It was capable of flying half-way around the world and could out run jet planes. It was loaded with a computer system that practically controlled the aircraft. It was designed for three pilots to control it; however, it could be controlled by only two. One pilot would control the aircraft while the other one could see anything on radar, identify approaching aircraft, and initiate an array of various cool weapons. One character described Airwolf as a “mach one class chopper that can kick butt”—which is an accurate description.
Alex Cord plays a man who works for an organization called The Firm. His name is Michael Coldsmith Briggs III, but his codename is Archangel (he wears glasses with a patch over the left eye lens, uses a cane, and wears a white suit...symbolizing an angel!). Archangel goes to see Stringfellow Hawke (I just love that name), who flew Airwolf as a test pilot. He wants him to find the helicopter and return it to the government. The problem is that Hawke is a recluse who lives in the mountains in a cabin by a lake with his dog, Tet. He likes living alone and doesn’t want to help Archangel, who shows up at his cabin with a young woman who is an agent. Hawke’s character is fascinating. He parents died in a boating accident on the lake. He inherited the cabin from his grandfather who collected famous paintings as a gift for his grandmother. He even serenades an eagle playing a cello in a chair on his dock.
Stringfellow had a brother named St. John (pronounced “Sinjin”), who flew helicopters in Vietnam with him. Their helicopter was shot down and only String was rescued. St. John has been listed as an MIA for fourteen years. Hawke has lost everyone he loved and is very depressed. He has only one friend, Dominic Santin, played by Ernest Borgnine who runs a helicopter stunt service for movies. Hawke is his main stunt pilot. Dominic raised Stringfellow and St. John after their parents died. Hawke finally agrees to go on the mission to retrieve the helicopter from Dr. Moffet and return it to the United States military. Archangel offers him a million dollars, but Hawke is not interested in the money. He wants the government to find his MIA brother. Archangel agrees to Hawke’s demands.
Naturally, Hawke falls in love with the female agent Archangel has brought with him. When she gets into trouble, Hawke steals Airwolf and goes after her. In the end of the pilot, Hawke decides to keep Airwolf to blackmail the government into helping him find his brother. He hides the helicopter in the desert in a unique place. Archangel recruits Hawke into helping The Firm on secret missions. Archangel does not want any government to know about Airwolf nor is Hawke to be associated with the government in any way. Hawke agrees to do so. Every week, he goes on a mission to other counties to help the organization keep America safe.
I loved the first three seasons Airwolf. The series featured excellent action scenes and Vincent’s interesting character always made it entertaining. Jan-Michael Vincent has always been one of my favorite actors. His life has been a hard one. He was in a car accident, which permanently damaged his voice, and also has battled alcoholism. He is doing better now and has retired from acting.
The helicopter used as Airwolf was sold after the show. It was used as an ambulance helicopter in Germany. During a thunderstorm in 1992, it crashed and, sadly, all three crew members were killed.