Back in the 80's, the years 1983 and 1984 to be specific, the youth of America was treated to the emergence of a new, cool vehicle not given it's due in years before. We were exposed to the coolness of the helicopter. We had seen planes, trains, and automobiles, but before this time the helicopter was more of an after-thought. The grown-ups of this time knew of them, sure, but only in a traffic-copter or rescue-copter capacity. We of the younger generation, though, knew more about fire engines and jet planes. We were content with that.
Then, along came the helicopter. Not just the Red Cross Rescue Helicopter, I'm talking helicopters with weapons. In 1983, a movie was released by the name of Blue Thunder. This was about a high-tech military helicopter piloted by one Roy Scheider, he of Jaws fame. He plays a LAPD helicopter pilot who is selected to pilot this new, super advanced badass helicopter called Blue Thunder. There is an evil plot, plenty of helicopter action, and in the end, they destroy the helicopter.
Sorry for the spoiler, but it was made in 1983 and if you haven't seen it already, you aren't going to see it just because I'm currently over-thinking it's significance.
One of the things I had forgotten about the TV series spin-off was it's awesome cast. A few of the cast highlights? Dana Carvey, Bubba Smith, and Dick Butkus. Yes, that's correct. He had been in the Pro Football Hall of Fame for four years before this TV series even showed up on the boob tube.
Day in and day out they used Blue Thunder to thwart a wide assortment of threats. It was a dusty blue, and had all sorts of guns and missiles and things poking out of it, really a military look to the whole thing.
No doubt somewhat inspired by the attention given to the film Blue Thunder, but also supposedly coming from an idea found within an episode of Magnum P.I. (same producer), the TV series Airwolf made it's debut in the year 1984. This helicopter was different, though.
Still military in origin, this was a stream-lined, sleek looking helicopter that kicked as much ass as Blue Thunder without looking like it was hastily thrown together. Airwolf is explained as a "supersonic" helicopter, and had an impressive array of weaponry that would be released from hidden panels. Things slide out of the way, something shoots out, then things slide back into place.
The lead character's name was Stringfellow Hawke. I put that in bold type because his name was Stringfellow Hawke. I haven't met many Stringfellows, but I want to very badly. He was played by Jan-Michael Vincent, who you have seen before in some other movie he did where he was in it and you saw him there. Along for the ride was his friend, mentor, and all around great guy, Ernest Borgnine. His name is in bold because he is Ernest Borgnine.
This show started out with cloak and dagger type of plots, with spy organizations and covert activities. It devolved, some would say, into more of a straight action kind of show with more pedestrian overtones. Of course, in each episode, Airwolf was needed to set things right, the setting of which typically happened in the air, and many times against other helicopters. Apparently, helicopters are the choice of vehicle for most mid-air fights. Top Gun was way off.
Some would say Airwolf loses points for their stingy use of the helicopter itself. Airwolf was covert, as I may have mentioned earlier, so it wasn't like they could just hop the the ol' 'Wolf and get them some McDonald's. There was no kitten-in-tree usage of Airwolf, it was strictly Go Get 'Em situations. So we saw the helicopter in the beginning, sometimes a little in the middle, and in the Final Battle. Otherwise, it was kept in the defunct volcano that served as Airwolf HQ.
Blue Thunder was somewhat different, as it was not a secret helicopter. So these guys could ride around in it, maybe get some chinese food and catch a Drive-In. Not that Dana would let that kind of thing happen, I'm just saying, you know, they could.
The Blue Thunder TV series totalled a total of 11 episodes total. Plus the movie. Airwolf ran from 1984-1987, completing three seasons and a fake fourth one. I say fake because it featured an all-new all-different cast and became worse production-wise. It's like when Bo and Luke were replaced by Coy and Vance. We just like to pretend the Duke boys didn't exist for that short time. Blue Thunder was cancelled because the network executives were not willing to try and compete with the Airwolf series, which sported a superior opening theme. So in that respect, Airwolf wins.
Where Airwolf loses is in use of the helicopter itself. There was not enough In General use, in my opinion, and most of the show was spent waiting for them to suit up and load them guns. Point: Blue Thunder.
Airwolf, though, just looked so much cooler. It was like the KITT of the sky, without the talking, jumping sounds, or Hasselhoff. It was sleek, had this black and white scheme going, and the coolest thing - in my 7 year old opinion - was the lack of skids (you know, they ski looking metal landing gear), and the use of wheels. Such a simple thing, but it made Airwolf look that much cooler, flying around with the landing gear tucked away made it look even sleeker, and it was already really sleek, so this was just extra sleekness.
This is what ultimately gives Airwolf the crown, in my opinion. It looks cooler, the pilot looks grimmer, and they have a Volcano Base. The theme song rocks in that catchy synthesizer way, and when it hits near the end of the episode you know the Bad Helicopter is going to take a dirt nap. I had both toys, but Airwolf got the most play.
So, in conclusion to this amazingly uplifting and informative thesis, I must listen to the 7-10 year old inside me and announce Airwolf as the winner in this, the first of several Case Studies I intend to enthrall you with.
Congratulations Airwolf. Go Get 'Em.