Monday, February 06, 2017

Cult-TV Theme Watch: Helicopters

A helicopter might be described as a type of craft in which rotors/propellers supply both thrust and lift, permitting the craft to land and launch vertically, and hover.

The helicopter is a vehicle or craft that has been featured prominently throughout TV history.

The great year of TV helicopters arrived in 1984, soon after the 1983 box office hit, Blue Thunder. In the 1984 TV season, networks featured copters quite prominently.

First, there was ABC's short-lived (and very unfortunate) spin-off of Blue Thunder, which lasted just eleven hour-long episodes, starred James Farentino (in the Roy Scheider role), and re-used stock footage from the John Badham movie. In this case, the titular helicopter was a modified Aerospatiale Gazelle.

Ironically, the same season brought a much more beloved helicopter oriented TV series to the screen, on CBS: Airwolf (1984-1987).  The series ran for four years, and starred (for the first three) Jan Michael Vincent and Ernest Borgnine.  The Airwolf was a converted Bell 222 (sometimes called a Bell 222A), and in the series the craft was a bad-ass, supersonic, heavily armed helicopter that veritably owned the skies.

Both Blue Thunder and Airwolf copters were state-of-the-art flying weapons. The third series to regularly feature a copter went a very different route.  An old Sikorsky S-58T nicknamed "The Screraming Mimi" was seen often on the series, Riptide (1984 - 1986), about detectives Cody Allen (Perry King) and Nick R Ryder (Joe Penny). She was a lovely old whirlybird.

Also in 1984, V: The Series often made use of copters, particularly those belonging to local news stations. Mike Donovan (Marc Singer) filmed the lead-up to the trial of Diana in "Liberation Day," from a copter.  Similarly, a different news copter approached the Star Child on private property in the same episode, and was buffeted by her psychic powers.

Beyond 1984, certain helicopters have become synonymous with certain TV programs. For instance, the opening credits of M*A*S*H* (1972-1983) feature several H-B Sioux helicopters bringing patients to the 4077 surgery camp.  On the series itself, the copters are also frequently seen landing and taking off.

Of late, downed copters have been seen in The Walking Dead (2010 - ) and military craft have been spotted airlifting the TARDIS on Doctor Who (2005 - ).


  1. John, great subject. Of current new helicopters, I always wonder which one would be used if AIRWOLF was ever rebooted.


  2. Thought for sure we'd see Harold the Helicopter from Thomas the Tank Engine or the googly eyed Falcon Zord helicopter from Power Rangers RPM.

    Working with kids is really rubbing off on my TV tastes.


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