A particularly popular style of US TV show in the 1980’s were the “big black high-tech vehicle” shows. Initially popularised by Knight Rider, the largest form of transport to follow this pattern was the helicopter, represented by Airwolf.
Airwolf was an experimental helicopter built by a company called The F.I.R.M, who were actually a branch of the CIA. The aircraft was heavily armed and capable of flying at supersonic speeds (its maximum speed was MACH 2 apparently, twice the speed of sound, and theoretically impossible for a helicopter to achieve). It was also endowed with some stealth capabilities, such as near silent running
The story of Airwolf starts to unfold when it is stolen back by its creator. The F.I.R.M, represented by a man codenamed Archangel, turn to Stringfellow Hawke (Jan-Michael Vincent), a now retired test pilot who was originally involved in the testing of Airwolf, to try and get the helicopter back. Hawke is content to live in his remote lakeside home, playing his cello, but agrees to help in exchange for The F.I.R.M tracking down his brother Saint John, who has been missing in action since Vietnam.
Stringfellow and his older friend Dominic Santini (Ernest Borgnine) manage to track down and recover Airwolf, or “The Lady” as the helicopter was sometimes referred to, but since The F.I.R.M have not managed to find Stringfellow’s brother he decides to keep Airwolf himself, hiding it away in the crater of a dormant volcano. The F.I.R.M aren’t happy about this, but come to an agreement with Stringfellow whereby they get him to run missions for them in Airwolf in return for a guarantee of protection from other agencies who also want to get their hands on the helicopter.
In the second series, the new character of Caitlin O’Shannessy (Jean Bruce Scott) was introduced in order to try and pull in more female fans. Caitlin was a police helicopter pilot who eventually ends up joining Hawke and Santini as part of the Airwolf crew. The darker tone of the original series was lifted a little and the series became more light hearted.
Airwolf itself was actually a modified Bell 222 helicopter in real life, but was armed to the teeth with chain guns and missiles, and had an afterburner type affair at the back of the craft which was how it was supposed to be able to reach its claimed maximum speed. It also had the ability to cloak itself from radar.
The show was the brainchild of Donald P. Belisario who also created time travel show Quantum Leap. The first series aired in 1984, and there were three series featuring Hawke and Santini as the crew. A change of TV network saw a fourth and final series with a brand new crew air in 1987. Stringfellow was replaced by his brother Saint John, who it turned out had been working for the CIA all along, and Dominic Santini was killed and replaced by his daughter Jo (at least I think it was his daughter). Caitlin was dumped without mention, poor girl.