As a savvy producer, I am grateful to Lucile Ball (Desilu) for two television production's she risked on, notably the original 'Star Trek', and 'Whirlybirds' among others.
'Whirlybirds' as a concept resulted originally from an 'I Love Lucy' (episode-140 "Bon Voyage") aired on CBS January 16, 1956, in which Lucy misses the sailing of her transatlantic ocean liner and commandeers a friendly Bell 47 helicopter to fly her out to the ship. Desilu Studios, duly intrigued by the Model 47 and its makers, began discussions with Bell Helicopters about how the entertainment potential of the Bell Model 47 might be further developed for a television audience.
'Whirlybirds' propelled the Bell 47's look and sound to popular attention in the late 1950s. Kenneth Tobey and Craig Hill starred as 47 pilots Chuck Martin and P.T. Moore, who flew off into diverse adventures from their base at Whirlybirds Inc., in mythical Longwood Field, California.
Tight scripting, pioneering location camera work at the old San Bernardino Airport and Republic Studio's Iverson Ranch supported the flying skills of National Helicopter pilots Bob Gilbreath, Harry Hauss, and Ed Fuderich. Together these airmen showcased the ability and utility of the 47G & 47 J models over 111 half-hour episodes. Some 39 episodes of the series were re-syndicated by CBS during 1958 under the name Copter Patrol. The Museum of Television and Radio in New York City houses a selection of Whirlybirds reference material, and a comprehensive set of episodes is on hand at the Library of Congress in Washington (16mm film). Excellent location and action visuals from the Whirlybirds set are now available for viewing at the National Helicopter WEB Site. I purchased from National Helicopter several of the actual television shows on VHS video tape. They brought back fond memories and are very exciting still to watch today. Entertaining Kenneth Tobey as no nonsense character Chuck Martin in those cool aviator shades!
I selected episodes that highlighted the flying skills of the National Helicopter pilots. The helicopter flying skills shown are simply the very best stunt flying by helicopter ever done before or since! In 'Cycle of Terror' - Episode 29) flying in tight ravines more remembered for the countless western chases on horseback filmed there (Iverson Ranch) - the rotors between rock outcrops and trees while chasing the villain on motorcycle is still outstanding & truly incredible. The landing skids of the copter used to knock the cyclist off his bike! Stunts likely prohibited by any studio insurance today.
Overlooked perhaps then by both dazzled kids and adults when seen today are the little charming slight of hands in production - as in 'Infrared' Episode 53, a Bell 47 J lands in a field before the camera, the National helicopter pilot climbs out of his front seat and slips down to the cockpit floor behind, and then it is actor Craig Hill seen exiting. A hint of the charming production values of those times.
Among many of the best episodes were some directed by an up & coming Robert Altman, who would later use the Bell 47's again in his film he is most remembered for among many others - M.A.S.H.. Not surprising perhaps, in 1984, a Bell 47 was put on display (as an art form) at none other than New York's Museum of Modern Art.
God I love this show. Sleeping Viacom could make a lot of money re-releasing these entertaining programs. I would purchase video disks of the entire series in a heartbeat! A baby boomer's fondest memories of his childhood in front of the television screen.
Release 'Whirlybirds' on DVD damnit!