Fads are an interesting phenomenon, especially when it comes to entertainment. It seems there is always some kind of “hot formula”, and everyone is trying to cash in on the action while the trend stays hot. Westerns, medical shows, police procedurals, even science fiction, have all had their time (and in some cases, many iterations of it) in the TV spotlight.
However, there’s one unique kind of TV show that doesn’t seem, as yet, to have had a resurgence. This kind of show seems to have been an almost uniquely ‘80s phenomenon, and just like the other types, there were a lot of them. The kind of show I’m talking about, of course, is the “super vehicle” show. This is a program, almost always an hour long, in which some form of fantastical machine is, if not central to the action of the show, at least a major presence in it.
This kind of program covered a wide spectrum of “involvement” by the vehicular co-star. On one hand, the vehicle could be little more than a stage-stealing prop, like the Ferrari 308 on Magnum PI. On the other, the vehicle in question was central to the plot, like the Coyote in Hardcastle and McCormick or the Street Hawk motorcycle in the show of the same name. In rare cases, the vehicle even became a star in its own right, like the General Lee in Dukes of Hazard, or KITT, in Knight Rider!
One thing you’ll notice is that most of these vehicles, other than their erstwhile technological features, are fairly simple. They’re cars or bikes, things that can be pretty easily customized by even semi-decent Hollywood prop houses or body shops. To make anything more elaborate than that required considerably more money, and thus more risk. Once you start talking about aircraft, you’re into some serious-money territory. In fact, it’s easier to do a spaceship than a real aircraft, because models can be used convincingly.
However, that doesn’t mean that there weren’t some ‘80s Super Vehicle Shows with aircraft! The first, stemming from the feature film of the same name, was the Blue Thunder helicopter. This advanced police chopper made the leap from the big screen to the TV screen in early January, 1984. However, this failed, and was cancelled after only 11 episodes. Amazingly hot on its heels, coming out in late January 1984, was a second super-chopper based show: Airwolf. Where Blue Thunder’s somewhat anemic Apache-like conversion of a Gazelle was easy meat for TV’s harsh environment, the meatier Bell 222-based Airwolf had what it took, and graced the sky for three full seasons, plus a lower-budget fourth on another network.
I will admit that I don’t remember Blue Thunder. I didn’t like the chopper design at all (still don’t) and its really weird, front-heavy design. I DO remember Airwolf, and I LOVED it. I think part of what made Airwolf work (other than Ernest Borgnine, obviously) was that the chopper was really cool, sinister looking and there was a LOT of it in the show. It was ludicrously overpowered, and most of its gimmicks don’t make sense at all. As an aircraft enthusiast now, I’d be very much someone shouting “No way! That doesn’t make sense!” at the screen. However, as a kid who thought supersonic helicopters with retractable weapons and extra jet engines were cool, I was all about it.
I really wished there’d been a GI Joe (3.75”) toy of it. I’d have LOVED that even more than my Dragonfly or my Tomahawk, but alas, there wasn’t. In fact, there was very little in the way of Airwolf toys. There was a small-scale Ertl of the chopper, and apparently a bigger-scale one too (which I only heard about a few days ago), but that was about it. That’s not a lot, considering the oodles of A-Team Vans, General Lees (Generals Lee?) and Street Hawk bikes (well, okay, not so much that one) we got as toys. However, just as it’s easier to make a custom car for a show, it’s easier and cheaper to make toys of those same cars; often, it’s just a paint job on an existing toy!
However, there was one replica that I didn’t know about at the time, and that was the AMT 1/48 model kit. Of course, at the time, I was too young to model; my uncle did it, but I had yet to get “the bug”. So, it slipped by me. Like the “real” Airwolf in the TV show, which remains hidden in a secret mountain hangar, so, too, did the model Airwolf seem to be nowhere whenever I looked.
A couple of years ago, a new Aoshima 1/48 Airwolf came out, and it’s apparently a very nice model; more accurate and finer of line than the old AMT. Ironically, though, there’s also an Aoshima kit that IS the old AMT repopped. (That’d be a rude surprise, so “buyer beware” at shows and swap meets!) I figured I’d maybe run into one of these at a model show. However, I managed to corner my own original AMT at an Antiques/Flea Market store in Woodstock, Ont.
So, strap on your flight suits, arm your turbines and rev up your ‘80s synth music, as we take this famous TV Whirlybird for a look see!
The first thing most people experienced when they saw Airwolf was the very ‘80s, synth-heavy theme. Even though I’d not heard it in about 35 years, the second I looked it up on the internet, I was immediately drawn back those many decades. It’s very distinct while trying to sound as generically “super-hero-vehically” as possible. However, you can’t convey that kind of synth in visual form can you?
The folks at AMT didn’t think you could, although something with a primitive “laser grid” background like the Airwolf’s situational displays, might have worked. However, the next best thing is a giant picture of the Airwolf sitting at the bottom of its secret hangar, with light streaming in from above. It’s atmosphereic as heck, although it’s not a super-clear picture. Mind you, if you were buying this kit, and didn’t know what Airwolf looked like, then that sounds like a deficiency on your end.
To give it that ‘edgy’ technology feel (since they missed out on the laser grid idea…), the font used for the Airwolf name has to suffice. It does, actually, and it giant red letters with black outlining there’s no mistaking this for any other helicopter. If you buy this thinking it’s something else, well, you can’t blame AMT is all I’m saying… You know to blame them, too, since their red logo (with Ertl underneath) takes up the upper left corner, almost trying to steal attention away form the Airwolf logo. It fails, but it’s just loud enough to be distracting.
Now, in case that isn’t enough, the as was often the case with “character” vehicles, the human stars of the show also get some face time on the box lid. (This is just like on the New Monkees Mustang.) Off to the lower right side are two inset pics of Stringfellow Hawke (Jan-Michael Vincent… was he sober that day?) and Dominic Santini (Ernest Borgnine), Airwolf’s primary crew. If having a supersonic stealth helicopter looking all “Close Encounters”-y doesn’t sell the kit, then I can definitely see why Ernest Borgnine’s mug WOULD. How much star power did AMT think this thing would need?
My copy is a bit beaten up, so I apologize for the edge wear, but the box art is that poorly exposed originally; it’s not like this sat in a display window forever! On the side of the box, there are screen caps of the Airwolf as seen in the show. Interestingly, both sides feature the same picture, but one is short a pic due to needing room for the UPC code. This seems like a cop-out; different pics, a side-view, or some kind of small write up about the chopper/TV series would have been nice.
The box is a large affair; I’m not used to choppers at anything greater than 1/72! It’s about the size of a modern, large, 1/72 jet box (like a Trumpeter J-20, say) and is a typical top-opening affair; thank goodness! It’s not particularly strongly-made, though, so be careful not to stack too much on top of it!
Airwolf is a Bell 222A modified with sick-on bits. New cabin sides, extra air intakes between the sponsons and the fuselage to house extra jet engines, a belly-mounted triple missile tube setup and some extending guns in the sponson ends are the majority of the mods. There’s also an interesting raised bit in the middle of the nosecone, and the inside is suitably “teched out”. When you consider this, it doesn’t seem like it’d be too hard to make a kit, right?
Well, AMT wasn’t known for spending money it didn’t have to, and they made their Airwolf the exact same way! Indeed, you can build this kit as either the Airwolf chopper from the show, or as standard Bell 222B. Since the B was just an A with bigger engines, that’s forgivable. If you build Airwolf, you basically end up sticking extra plastic bits to the base 222 fuselage, and that must be what Ertl meant by “Just like the real thing, only smaller!”, since that’s exactly how they made the prop for the show!
In the box is a single bag containing both fuselage halves, and two racks of parts. In my kit, the racks were moulded as a single huge rack, but then folded over while the plastic was warm so it’d fit in the box. I broke the racks apart for taking pictures of them. There are two separate “glass” racks, too, that were just thrown in loose in my example. The front windscreen is one piece, and the door glass and chin windows (Chindows?) being separate pieces on the same rack. The second rack has all the cabin glass.
The kit is moulded in a medium-dark grey, darker than what you normally see for model airplanes today, but not out of the ordinary for the mid-80’s. The detail on the chopper includes a lot of raised rivet detail. This seems weird to me, since it’s supposed to be stealthy. Also, the rivets are BIG, like Airfix ‘60’s kit big! They are there on the real chopper, but these look far too pronounced, even for 1/48. Preserving them might prove difficult, so I’ll have to decide if I want to scribe lines in their place, leave them, or just sand them off.
Overall, the detail on the chopper isn’t bad. It’s an AMT, so it’s not fine at all; the openings are heavily “trenched” and Lord knows if the windows fit. The detail on the triple tube launcher and sponson guns looks good for the day, too. The landing gear and gear bays, though are primitive in the extreme. No detail to speak of on the gear themselves, and the bays are just empty boxes. Scratch builders can go to town on this one!
One place where AMT did cut corners was in the interior. The instructions have you assembling a conventional cockpit, and putting a sealed bulkhead behind it. There’s a conventional 222 interior in behind it. THIS IS SO WRONG! The Airwolf cockpit has an open bulhead, and the rear of the chopper is a mess of computers, screens and switches. There is abosolutely no attempt here to reproduce that interior. This is weak. Very weak. AMT is peddling some very watered-down weaksauce here, and the only saving grace is that in Airwolf mode, the cabin is blocked off anyway, so spending a lot of time on it would be pointless.
Just like the real thing, most of what differentiates Airwolf from the rest of the Bell 222’s out there is scabbed onto the sides. The pieces that make up the “extra armour” for the sides bolt right onto the sides, and there aren’t windows in there. Hence, as implied above, you can, in fact, do nothing on the rear cabin and get a way with it! The guns look decent, although drilling the barrels will add a lot to them. The missile pods that are on centreline also look good, but again, a drilling-out will make them that much better. There’s a lot of flash on the racks near the weapons, but the biggest problem is the weird round bits that are moulded to the relatively delicate-looking gun barrels.
Instructions and Decals:
The instructions for the kit are rather unusual in how they’re presented. Normally, kits of this era are provided with the usually “fold out” type of two-sided instruction sheet. This time, though, we’ve got something different: a book. Yes, it’s a literal “instruction book”. It is not only stapled together, it’s also provided with holes, so you can store it in a binder when you’re done. I can’t say I’ve seen that before… Even the booklet that came with Movin’ Out wasn’t punched with holes for binder-mounting!
Now, the thing to remember is that those holes might not have been there originally. This is likely something that the original owner did to store his instructions, and then took them out of the binder so he could sell the kit. Either way, it’s an interesting idea. Not one I intend to use, but still interesting.
The nice part about the instructions is that they’re big. There’s no tiny little diagram showing a teeny piece fitting in behind a bunch of other pieces. This is all hand-drawn, black and white line art. This precedes the current vogue of using solid models/CG drawings in instructions by several decades. I personally like this approach better. It just seems clearer.
The cover of the instructions shows the Airwolf “Coming at ya!” with some dude in the background. I’m assuming that’s supposed to be Stringfellow Hawke, but man, I wouldn’t be putting money on that. It’s not a great likeness. The Airwolf though, is. What I find weird is how the “add on” sponson that has a lot of the “Airwolf-y” bits is a bit darker than the rest of the chopper. It actually gives the drawing a weird, almost 3-D effect that might have been unintentional, but is still cool!
Inside, the first page gives you a basic painting plan for Airwolf, and the next page shows civilian paint schemes for a “vanilla” Bell 222B. (That’s interesting, since Airwolf is an “A”model…) The rest of the instructions are all large and clear, and there shouldn’t be any problem for even a relative newcomer to follow them. However, the instructions do show up the innate weaknesses of the AMT Airwolf kit, especially when it comes to having an interior that is NOTHING LIKE AIRWOLF at all! Sigh…
The interior isn’t hyper-detailed to start, but since none of the doors open, it’s not like you’re going to be able to get a good look at much anyway. There are some seats, an instrument panel and some control sticks. Anti-torque pedals (for the tail rotor) are moulded into the floor, and there’s a throttle, too. The passenger cabin is the big let down, having only the civilian 5-seat interior. It looks nice enough, but very plain. There’s some good detailing on the floor, though, as well as on the fabric-y looking bulkhead. If you want a good replica of the real Airwolf interior, but the new Aoshima.
The instructions also show the build up of the “extra” bits that make Airwolf, well… Airwolf! Just like in real life, these add on bits are the only really big differences between Airwolf and a real Bell 222. What the instructions don’t seem to show is where to put the Airwolf decals! That’s right, there are only two for the whole kit, and they are the weird emblem that adorns the flight suits of the crew.
This is a weird emblem of a wolf’s head busting through a sheep. Now, I think it’s supposed to be a Wolf’s head surrounded by fleece and with bat wings, giving you the impression it’s a “wolf in sheep’s clothing”, but I have to say, it’s really odd. The bit above the wolf’s eyes are supposed to be it’s brows, I think, but they look like they could be a weird separate sheep’s head, meaning this winged wolf head shot out of the sheep’s throat? On top of the graphical oddness, there’s no clue where to put the decals, and I have to say, I don’t remember seeing that emblem on the show, either. Maybe if you build intake covers, you could put it there, or you could make them seat emblems? There are some other decals for the civilian Bell 222B, but not too many people will likely build it that way.
The decals are small and old, but they aren’t yellowed and may actually perform okay. Mind you, I’m not sure they’re needed.
On that note, as a final nod to the ‘80s-ness of the whole thing, the back of the instruction booklet has an ad for two monster truck kits. First time I’ve seen ads for other kits on the instructions! Nice work, AMT!
For those of us who remember it, the ‘80s was a great time for the “super vehicle” show. Since modelling was still wide-enough spread that making kits of these mechanical showstoppers was profitable, we modellers got quite a treat in that so many of them were kitted. While Airwolf might not be the most outlandish, it is a very cool update to a normal vehicle, and its array of weapons and high-tech gear made it one of the most popular of the decade.
That the AMT kit was, for so long, the only kit of Airwolf says something about the changing landscape of entertainment and the shrinking of the model market back in those days. It seems that both fads, that of lots of “casual” modellers, and of the “super vehicle” show, died out at almost the same time. Thankfully, while not perfect, the AMT model does look like it will be a decent, if not amazing, replica of TV’s favourite super-chopper.
It’s a pretty large kit with relatively few, and relatively large, pieces. That makes it good for a relative novice, and while it might be a bit much for a total beginner, it shouldn’t be that problematic for most to build this. Getting it to look spot-on will take some work, and even then it’s not the best replica out there. If you’re a super-detailer, though, there’s a lot you can add to make this bird better, and it does scream out for a mountain cave landing pad diorama.
Overall, I can recommend this kit to anyone who can model and shares a love of cool ‘80s TV sci-fi and super vehicles. If you want to go full retro on your model and your subject at the same time, it won’t come much more authentic than this!