The Seven Best 80s TV Helicopters

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
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.

Mmm… Reese’s Pieces.

Magnum, P.I.
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.

Blue Thunder
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.


Filed under Humor, TV Shows

36 responses to “The Seven Best 80s TV Helicopters

  1. HAHAH Airwolf… now I am a child again!! Loved that. Also how cool was the chopper in Magnum?? 🙂

  2. Airwolf definitely has my favortie helicopter.

  3. My vote goes for the Magnum helicopter, even though there aren’t any guns on it.

  4. I gotta go with Airwolf too since reading the title immediately made me think of that show.

  5. I haven’t thought about Airwolf or 240 Robert since, oh, 1980. Thanks for the chopper-blast from the past

    • Airwolf is one of those shows that I watched 3 or 4 times when I was 9 years old or something, and yet it’s the kind of show that sticks in your head.

      • Funny how that happens. Same here. And how if you only are able to catch a show a couple of times, it’s always the same episode. Only watched “Starsky and Hutch” twice…both the same episode. Airwolf was kind of like that

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  7. I think Magnum also wins for best mustache and best use of a Detroit Tigers baseball cap.

  8. Phil

    Yes, I saw Blue Thunder in the theater. It starred the great Roy Scheider and it was about a police helicopter that could fly completely silently. I remember them spying on a woman getting undressed…and not much else. I vaguely remember the tv show, but I don’t think I ever watched it.

    • A helicopter spying on a woman getting undressed sounds… hilarious, actually. How would someone not notice a giant helicopter outside their window?

  9. The “synthesizers and wacky grids” are exactly what made the Airwolf intro so awesome. My brother watched that show religiously…and truth be told, I always got goosebumps when the theme kicked in. (Oh, who am I kidding; I still get goosebumps when I hear it.)

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  10. I had no idea about this! Thanks for enlightening me. Also, I laughed out loud about “old people solving mysteries.” There *were* a lot of those in the ’80s, weren’t there? Lol!

  11. Oh man, this post made me all nostalgic about my favorite shows. We didn’t get too many channels growing up, so I really treasure those we do get. I certainly watched A Team, Magnum PI, Airwolf and Tour of Duty, that last one has a pretty catchy theme, too!

  12. Andrew

    I feel like Baywatch had a helicopter in its opening sequence.

  13. Bernie

    Wait a minute… How can you forget Riptide and Screaming Mimi? If ever there were a TV helicopter with character it was Mimi. I mean, c’mon, a pink Sikorsky S-58T?

  14. butters

    does anyone remember a movie called “Pink Thunder” about two guys who break into a house and pretend to be casting agents. There was a bright pink R/C heli called Pink Thunder they use at one point in the movie

  15. Phil

    Screamin’ Mimi from riptide…

    Airwolf is god but Mimi is a close secons

  16. Richard

    You missed the coolest and best looking of all time… The red Coast Guard helicopter used in the Baywatch Theme… Not sure if it was a later DVD version or international release version that used the Kim Carnes song “Above the Waterline”, one of the guys was hanging out the side door giving the thumbs up sign as they banked across the waves. I don’t think this Heli featured in the original TV screening though?. Anyone remember?.

    I also loved the Magnum opening theme with the Bell Heli. My four year old used to love watching it with me. That opening sequence was so great!. We watched the whole magnum series again because of that. (His first time) Good Times!.

  17. Phil

    Blue Thunder was an incredible movie and horrible TV show. Awesome helicopter! You also forgot to list “Riptide” which had a helicopter named”MiMi” as a main show star.

  18. Mike Parker

    Let’s not forget the glowing helicopter in Automan and the chopper in Highwayman that was also part of the tractor-trailer when not flying!

    Then there’s the black helicopter with glowing red lines and blades in TRON!

  19. John Frogg

    Never heard of Blue Thunder?? Whaaat? Loved that show. What about that pink funky looking helicopter in Riptide?

  20. John Stevens

    I was about 8 when I watched whirlybirds a great show and I have been a helicopter fanatic ever since.

  21. Looking to find tv series where helicopter was stored inside a hollow mountain

  22. Woo Key

    How about M*A*S*H*? Wouldn’t it be fun to be wounded, half-dead on a stretcher strapped to the skids of an early 50’s chopper?

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