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Airwolf: The Movie

More like ‘Airwoof.’

Rod Lott August 25th, 2011

In the early 1980s, we Americans just couldn't get enough of our high-tech helicopters! In fact, in January 1984, we had two competing series on the subject: “Blue Thunder,” based on the previous year’s hit movie, and “Airwolf,” producer Donald Bellisario’s attempt at stealing “Thunder”’s thunder.


The two premiered within days of one another, and here’s how things shook out, if you don’t recall: “Blue Thunder” lasted a mere three months; “Airwolf,” four entire seasons. Sometimes, it pays to be second out of the gate.

Now, Shout! Factory has resurrected the victor’s Bellisario-written and -directed pilot, “Airwolf: The Movie.” I’m guessing it played theatrically in other countries, because it contains multiple utterances of the F word, some surprising violence, and a couple of sexual situations (but minus the payoff of nudity). Either way, it’s a real Cold War relic, even if Libyan leader Gadhafi figures heavily into its plot.

Basically, it’s the origin story of the super-helicopter. Oops, did they hear me say that? Because as Eugene Roche’s bagel-craving Congressman sternly gets corrected in the opening scene, “It's not a goddamn helicopter, senator! It's Airwolf!" Roche rewords, “It’s an overgrown beanie with a propellor,” and he’s corrected once more: “ a Mach-1 Plus chopper that can kick butt.”

In other words, America, eff yeah!

Before long, sad Vietnam vet Jan-Michael Vincent is coerced to stop playing musical instruments lakeside and retrieve the damn thing when it’s copter-napped to the Middle East, and become its pilot. Ernest Borgnine is along for the ride and comic relief. Belinda Bauer (“Timerider”) appears as someone J-M V calls a “whore,” then beds anyway.

I hadn’t caught many “Airwolf” eps as a kid, so I didn’t expect the telefilm to be so grim and dark. But it’s that in a way that is not enjoyable; it feels icky, racist, sexist and packed with the same kind of jingoism that later served Bellisario well for umpteen seasons of “JAG.”

The DVD’s lone extra is a 15-minute retrospective with Borgnine recalling as much as he can, from how he got the gig (guesting on “Magnum, P.I.”) to how people at air shows just went ape-shit over the Airwolf. —Rod Lott

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08.25.2011 at 02:59 Reply

Only in the movies can a helicopter travel at the speed of sound.  I might not be a physicist, but I imagine there would be some repercussions for hitting that speed in a helicopter.  Even today’s “super copter” the EH101 (with it’s 3 jet engines) can only hit a max speed 192.  Though it’s worth nothing that it can do so while carrying 24 seated or 45 standing troops!

Always a fan of the helicopter, I do enjoy shows which revolve around it.  Both the Blue Thunder and Airwolf TV series’ were lacking, I’d have to say that Airwolf probably survived on its sex appeal.  But if I were to include the Blue Thunder motion picture, I’d say it wins with absolutely no competition!  Roy Sheider was the man!

Sadly, all that remains of the Blue Thunder helicopter is a rusting shell on the Universal back lot.  Airworlf on the other hand…  I’m not sure how many props they made, but I did see one show up on eBay a few years back.  If only I’d had $30,000 and a place to put it I could be the pimp using the line “ever done it in a Helicopter before?”


08.26.2011 at 11:53

I must concede that I made a few errors in my previous comment.  The rusting Blue Thunder shell isn't on the Universal backlot, it's on the MGM studios (Florida) back lot.

And while I did see one of the Mockup Airwolfs for sale on ebay (you can find a brief quip about this on Tech Crunch), the actual stunt copter (a Bell 222A) was sold to a German Medivac Unit and was eventually struck by lightning and "lost".

If you're a fan of Helicopters on film, hover on over to a site called and let your rotarcraft geek flag fly!