AIRWOLF Episode Guide Season 1 – Episode 01 – PILOT
EPISODE DESCRIPTION & OVERVIEW
(Episode aka “Shadow of the Hawke” — Parts 1 + 2)
Airwolf is a futuristic, high-adventure series, about a sleek, top secret helicopter, designed to tackle covert and tactical operations. Armed with the most advanced weaponry, radar and surveillance, it bears an innovative rotor and thrust system enabling it to fly at Mach One and higher. It is America’s deadliest secret in the “cold” war against the Eastern Bloc and a response to the raised threat of nuclear war, giving the U.S. a free hand in air supremacy. Its pilot comes in the form of skilled aviator, Stringfellow Hawke (Jan-Michael Vincent), a reclusive individual living in a secluded mountain cabin, scarred from combat experiences in Vietnam.
In this two-hour opening movie, the hi-tech machine is stolen by its deviant creator, Doctor Charles Moffet, where it is transported to Colonel Kadaffi’s “sand-pile” in Libya. The deal: perform acts of terrorism with the stealth Airwolf against countries hostile to Libya, in return for the freedom of the country’s capital, where the British engineer can indulge in his favourite pastime; raping and torturing young women.
Coldsmith Briggs, Deputy Director of a clandestine security agency named The FIRM, calls for Hawke’s assistance in recovering the aircraft, given his experience as the test-pilot. In exchange, Hawke requests the intelligence division employs its resources in locating his brother, St John, a fellow solider listed as MIA, believed to be a POW in South East Asia. In order to accomplish the impending mission, Hawke enlists the help of his old friend and mentor, Dominic Santini (Ernest Borgnine), another war veteran. Together, they travel overseas to Tripoli in an attempt to recover Airwolf from Moffet and Kadaffi’s Libyan forces. But Hawke stands to lose more than he gains.
MJC EPISODE REVIEW:
One of the most intriguing and action-packed pilots of a television series. Vividly directed with adult sensibilities and cinematically paced by writer/director Bellisario, the Airwolf movie is one of the finest action-adventure openers produced for American television; aging better than its peers from that era of the 1980s. Bellisario teaches a master-class in how to create a dark, intense thriller series, for adults as well as children with a concept like this.
Everyone delivers a superb performance, particularly leading man Jan-Michael Vincent. Completely engaged with full concentration, and in charge of his faculties within every scene as Hawke, he shows the fighter, the lover, the anti-hero, and in the end, the damned. Ernie Borgnine is a joy to watch; wonderful in the role as Hawke's best friend and mentor, Santini. I can't think of anyone who could have played the character better. Ernie Borgnine was Dom, and here, he brings his Oscar-winning craft to the table, with later episodes such as ‘ONE WAY EXPRESS’ and ‘SINS OF THE PAST’, exploiting that craft with stage-commanding prowess.
It was David Hemmings' gloriously slimy performance that stood out memorably. One you long remember when the film’s over. The US government have looked the other way at Moffet's behaviour, selling their collective soul for his twisted genius. The idea that Airwolf is stolen from the Firm, with Hawke & Dominic having to steal it back, and the further twist that they don’t hand it over to the agency upon their return, is a great plot device, setting up the format for the show effectively.
With a high concept like Airwolf's, an element of tongue-in-cheek was almost mandatory to bring a provocative premise on the air. But Bellisario pulls it off, and in Airwolf, the self-parody is deliberately subliminal almost, to enable the series to play both sides of the fence. It’s a TV series that mostly stands the test of time today. Even in the post-Cold War era, the technology may have dated in this time of F-22 and F-35 fighters as well as Apache helicopters as it used real world, mostly Right-wing politics within its writing. It’s a reality that extends to later story locations, with scripts set in foreign countries such as Libya here, then Laos, Nicaragua, Cuba, Mexico, the then "East" Germany and of course, Mother Russia.
The awesome aerial finalé panders to the darker instincts, making for satisfying viewing when you realise that Hawke and Santini skimming around the Libyan skies in Airwolf, was a sort-of Blackbird of Death amalgam of the Lone Ranger, Mighty Mouse and God, dispensing instant justice in the name of fair play and apple pie. The American public would have been none the wiser.
‘PILOT’ EPISODE’s AIRWOLF THEME MUSIC REVIEWED
Where it all started.
The eerie sounds of the opening “helmet walk”; the debut of the iconic theme during the start-up sequence; Gabrielle’s death at the hands of Moffett; and the fantastic orchestral sand-dune chase with Hawke & Dominic chasing down his escaping jeep across the Libyan desert. The Pilot episode has it all, with the music beautifully arranged and conducted by composer, Sylvester Levay.
Levay’s and late Music Editor Gene Gillette's orchestral music choices for the background scenes are just as memorable and astounding, as you'll hear from the YouTube links below. It all set up the magic for the rest of Season 1 perfectly.
As an interesting sub-note, Jan Michal Szulew's ‘PILOT’ – Orchestral Suite below, starts with an unused track Levay recorded to open the episode. But it was ultimately rejected by Executive Producer Don Bellisario, in favour of the atmospheric synths. Levay therefore utilised the Synth Pad sounds heard in the final televised cut, of which Szulew has recreated perfectly for a separate track, ‘PILOT’ – Journey to Red Star [TV] (extended)
MUSIC TRACKS AVAILABLE FROM THE AIRWOLF ‘PILOT’ episode:
‘PILOT’ – Journey to Red Star [TV] (extended)
‘PILOT’ – Kafir palace raid + Red Star Test Run
‘PILOT’, Season 1 – Synth Theme (extended)
‘PILOT’, Season 3 – Journey to Red Star [MOVIE] / ‘EAGLES’ Aerial Theme (ext’d)
‘PILOT’, Season 1 + 2 – Minimalist (extended)
‘PILOT’ – Orchestral Suite
‘PILOT’ – Closing Theme
‘PILOT’ [TV] – Blaze Theme
‘PILOT’ / ‘BITE OF THE JACKAL’ – Eagle’s Cello Theme + Synth Theme
GENERIC ORCHESTRAL TRACKS FROM THE AIRWOLF ‘PILOT’ episode:
- Beethoven String Quartet in A major op.18 no.5 - Allegro 1 from the Avalon String Quartet on YOUTUBE
- Beethoven String Quartet in D major op.18 no.3 - Allegro 3 from the Avalon String Quartet on YOUTUBE