In 1983, Return of the Jedi finally came out. What little headway G.I. Joe had made into my toy collection in 1982 was quickly erased by the new wave of Star Wars figures that were being released. After seeing the movie, though, playing with the figures became anti-climatic. That summer, my brother got an Airborne figure. On day, while playing, I decided to use this Airborne. At that moment, I was a full convert. Star Wars was out, G.I. Joe was in. The swivel arm battle grip had intrigued me, but once I held this figure in my hands, it was the amazing detail and accessories that won me over. Airborne had the awesome bayonet, and a pack that I thought had a parachute on top. (I now know differently.) He became my favorite figure. Soon, I had all the other '83's. Airborne, though, remained at or near the top of my play list until 1986. After that point, the newer figures were winning me over. Besides, my Airborne was dying a slow death. I managed to replace him, but it was too late. Now, though, this figure holds a special place in my collection.
I liked the Airborne figure, but after reading G.I. Joe #31, his character had me hooked. He and Spirit made a great story work perfectly. After reading that comic, I made them a team. Of course, after watching wrestling from the time, they eventually split up and became enemies. It just seemed the natural thing to do. Airborne was the least treated of the five major new character introduced in G.I. Joe #11. While Wild Bill was only available with the Dragonfly, Airborne, a regularly carded figure, got considerably less press time. With #31, he was finally given some adequate comic time. Of course, after this triumph, his only other appearances were token. Airborne was probably one of the first signs that the G.I. Joe team would grow to big to be manageable in a single comic.
I gave Airborne a quiver and Storm Shadow's bow. Like most of my favorite figures, he had to be over accessorized. This also lead to hard times for the figure. Many of my early versions have broken thumbs, crotches and accessories. The nice thing, though, was that Airborne was available for about three years. As I broke my old figures, I could still replace him. After he disappeared from the shelves, though, I was cautious of the figure so I wouldn't destroy the only one I had left. The figure was pretty strong, but the beating he would take over the years was enough to make anyone cringe. He was buried in dirt, left out in the snow, dropped from the top of the garage, had his parachute (a cloth Fisher Price jobbie that was about the coolest working 3 3/4" accessory I ever found. Those crappy plastic Hasbro parachutes always sucked and would never work right. This Fisher Price thing, though, was awesome. It opened every time. The rainbow colors, though, kind of made it difficult for military use.) rip off him in midair, and was run over by monster Tonka trucks. At least I never set him on fire....
The Airborne mold has a long international history. After the mold was used on the very first Steel Brigade figures, it was shipped off to South America. There, Airborne was released in both Argentina and Brazil, though in colors very similar to the American figure. (Of note, though, is the exclusive card art that Airborne received in Brazil. It is quite cool.) In the early '90's, the Airborne mold was dusted off, colored in Python Patrol colors and released in Brazil as a Cobra named Gatilho. After this use, though, the mold disappeared and has not been seen since. It is likely that the mold has stayed in Brazil where it is, for all intents and purposes, lost. It's too bad as a new take on this mold would be welcomed. At this point, I'd even settle for a new amalgamation that was true to the Airborne character.
It's sad, really, that most of Airborne's attention from collectors is from the fact that he made up most of the mold for the Steel Brigade figures. You never really hear people talking about him. When Ripcord came out in 1984, Airborne was basically replaced as the co-pilot for the Skystriker and Dragonfly. As such, he fell by the wayside. Since there were so many other awesome '83's, he is also easy to overlook. The figure, though, is awesome. I love the mold. I often gave him a spare Ripcord's parachute pack and mask. This tandem of skydivers became the first assault unit that always came in and made it safe for the later troops. With a little imagination, Airborne remained one of my most popular figures for several years. That's a lot longer than the average figure would make it.
Airbornes are not expensive, in comparison to other '83's. Do expect, though, to pay a bit more for him than you would for other, newer figures. He isn't too tough to find, but can be problematic. Like most '83's, you don't find pristine copies of Airborne without a little search time. Kids then played with their toys and most surviving versions are in bad shape. You will notice the damage done to the gun on this sample. While the figure is good, I have at least 4 dead ones that couldn't make it out of the '80's. Airborne's paint is fairly resilient, except on his hands. This is were the majority of wear occurs on these figures. He appears for sale rather often, though. Probably more so than other '83's like Gung Ho and Snow Job. (The only two Joe figures from '83 that really beat out Airborne from a sheer coolness standpoint.) Of course, I have now picked up a couple of extra copies of this figure. The only way I will display my Dragonfly is with Airborne in the gunner's seat. It is his place of honor for the figure that made me a full fledged Joe fan.