The 1980s were a magical time on television. Old people were solving mysteries, retired athletes populated the TV landscape, Donald Bellisario was at the peak of his power, and NBC’s entire lineup was fortified by a Jello Pudding Pop spokesperson. And then… there were the helicopters. For some reason far beyond me, a bunch of TV shows featured helicopters. I can only assume that the best helicopter salesman in history started knocking on TV studio doors in 1980 and made a lot of sales. Here are the seven best.
The A-Team didn’t have one specific helicopter, per se. Rather, the show had several helicopters, usually (always?) piloted by Murdock. What made the A-Team helicopters special is that nobody ever died in them even when they crashed. Seriously, people would walk away from helicopter crashes in that show.
There are a lot of things that made the Magnum helicopter the coolest helicopter in TV history. First of all, it was painted like a giant bag of Reese’s Pieces. It was in Hawaii and it was flown by T.C., also known as the coolest secondary character in TV crime drama history. None can top T.C.’s chopper.
Airwolf is the second Donald Bellisario-created 80s TV show with a prominent helicopter on this list. While the Magnum chopper belonged to a secondary character and made only sparing visits to the show, the helicopter in Airwolf was the star. The entire show hinges on how technologically advanced the helicopter was. The show’s intro practically screams “HEY, IT’S THE 1980s!!!”, what with its synthesizers and wacky grids used to signify “technological advancement”:
This show had a really great idea. It was about LAPD paramedics, and their storylines were lifted from real stories that happened to the LAPD. Sadly, it was short lived, airing only from 1979 to 1981. Big point in favor of their helicopter: it helped save lives.
Including CHiPS is cheating a bit since the show began in the 70s. Still, it continued to air in the 80s and it definitely featured a helicopter. In fact, 240-Robert was created by Rick Rosner, the same guy who created CHiPS. In a way, CHiPS is responsible for two helicopters on the list. And Ponch.
Tour of Duty
The 1980s were the officially designated time to look back on Vietnam in America. CBS created a drama called Tour of Duty on the heels of Platoon (1986). As you can imagine with any show about war, helicopters made multiple appearances, including in the show’s intro.
I can’t speak to this one too much since… well, I hadn’t even heard of it until I started writing this article. But apparently there’s a 1983 movie called Blue Thunder, and they made a TV show about it in 1984. It lasted all of eleven episodes. However, the show revolved around a helicopter. Guess what the name of the helicopter is? The best part here is the cast of the show. The crew featured Dana Carvey, pre-Saturday Night Live, along with two ex-NFL players (Dick Butkus and Bubba Smith). That is an amazing cast.