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T.C.'s Chopper

TC's Chopper Icon

Opening Credits
Opening Credits
Hughes 500D
Hughes 500D
T.C.'s ubiquitous, multicolored helicopter is a Hughes 500D, the civilian variation of the OH-6 military helicopter. The Hughes 500 series is one of the most popular light turbine helicopters in the world. Its rugged construction, superior performance and reliability, crisp handling, precise maneuverability and fast speed combine to make it a favorite of many helicopter pilots. The Hughes 500D entered the commercial market in 1977 with a new five-bladed rotor system, a T-Tail, and the Allison Model 250 turbine engine. In 1984, Hughes Helicopters became a subsidiary of McDonnell Douglas and the 500D became the MD 500 series. Unlike most choppers, the 500D is piloted from the left side.

Contrary to popular belief, the chopper's paint job is not a custom design. The paint scheme (namely the diagonal bands) and colors (bright) are one of several standard factory designs available in the 500 series.

T.C.'s chopper was the sole flight craft of his air charter company Island Hoppers. Primarily a tourist sightseeing business, Island Hoppers first homebase was at a public heliport in Honolulu (first two seasons). For most of the show, it operated out of the Makai Research Pier on the SE coast of Oahu, close to Sea Life Park. In the late '70s, before he owned Island Hoppers, T.C. flew birds for a charter compnay called Ken Enderlin Charters. After saving his money for "years", he was able to purchase his own chopper and charter business in 1980. Somewhat surprisingly, T.C. never named his helicopter. It's simply refered to as "The Chopper". In the Vietnam War with the Marines, T.C. flew Huey's, Kiowa's, Little Bird's and Cobra's.

Magnum & T.C. in the Chopper
Magnum & T.C.
T.C.'s Chopper @ Island Hoppers Headquarters
Island Hoppers HQ
The chopper has endured numerous hardships over the years. It sustained countless damage from small weapons fire, several perilous emergency landings, even skyjackings. And then of course there was the neverending "gas money" issues. The chopper was totalled on two occasions during crash landings in "Past Tense" (3.5) and "Under World" (5.5). In the case of the later, it actually crashed in the Pacific ocean and sank to the bottom!

The show used several different Hughes 500-series choppers for filming (and a 369D early in the first season), each with a slightly different setup and look. The main differences were with regards to the tail and skids - T-tailed (500D), Y-tailed (500C), high skids, short skids, skids with floats, and gray and tan interiors were all used in various configurations. The T-tailed/short skid setup (the 500D) was by far the most commonly seen in the show.

Several different pilots were used in the show, including Marc Wolff, Steve Kux (also Aerial Coordinator) and J. David Jones (also Aerial Coordinator). Steve Kux logged the most flight time on the show. On May 13th, 1988, two weeks after the series finale aired, Steve Kux was seriously injured after crashing a 369D (N4943T) into a drainage ditch in Waialua. Steve was pinned in the cockpit, and partially under water, when local Hawaiian "Tiny" Amarel heroically lifted up the front end of the chopper so he could be pulled out! The incident was dramatically caught on film and can be seen in several outlets, including the Discovery Channel's Destroyed in Seconds TV show. Steve recovered from the crash, but he lost the use of his left arm and had to retire from flying. The NTSB report can be found here. N4943T was used in several episodes of Magnum P.I., including "The People vs. Orville Wright" (7.21) & "The Love That Lies" (8.6).

T.C.'s Chopper
Chopper Surprise!
T.C.'s Chopper
In Flight
During the filming of "Skin Deep" (1.6), in a low-flying aerial sequence, a Hughes 369D (N58243) helicopter crashed into the ocean, tragically killing camera technician Robert Van Der Kar (and injuring the pilot Robert Sanders). N58243 was the chopper with floatation gear and long skids seen in the opening credits and in the first several episodes. The official NTSB report found the cause to be pilot error, a misjudgement in altitude (i.e. the chopper was flying too low). The episode contains an "In Memoriam" caption for Robert Van Der Kar. Just prior to Magnum P.I., the N58243 was used in a 1980 episode of Vega$ ("Aloha, You're Dead"), which also featured the Anderson Estate (aka Robin's Nest).

If you would like to take the chopper for a spin around the islands you can try your hand at MS Flight Simulator (2004 & X) which has a free Hawaiian-themed scenery add-in that features T.C.'s chopper. It even has T.C. in the cockpit! For model enthusiasts, Revell made a 1/32 scale model kit in the 1980s, but it is no longer being produced. An excellent 3D computer graphics model of T.C.'s chopper can be found here. The model was created with Google SketchUp, a great freeware 3D modeling program.

The Island Hoppers helicopter was seen grounded (in the background, but close) in a December 2012 episode of Hawaii Five-0 ("Kahu"). Here's a screenshot.

In 2013, a working replica of the Magnum P.I. MD500 chopper was built by Phoenix Heliparts. Owned and operated by Paradise Helicopters, tours of the island are offered out of Turtle Bay Resort (North Shore). For more information, go to their website or check out this great video clip (with Roger E. Mosley).

Hughes 500D Specs

Max. Air Speed Cruise Speed
152 mph 130 mph
Max. Gross Weight Empty Weight
3,000 lbs 1,414 lbs
Max. Fuel Range Fuel Capacity
375 nm 64 gal
Service Ceiling Hover Ceiling
15,000 ft 8,500 ft
Max. Continuous Power Installed Horsepower
370 hp 420 hp
Required Crew Passengers
1 4
Engine Manufacturer Engine Model
Allison 250-C20B

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