It’s kind of amazing how figures can fall out of public consciousness over time. I’m not really talking about Meme-level figures, like Big Brawler, or the flavour of the month new releases, but rather the solid and well thought of figures, from the classic years of G.I. Joe. One of those figures is the 1983 Airborne. A long time ago, it seemed like Airborne would show up all the time, he was frequently featured in Dios, and would often be one of the more common custom figures. Even his 25th Anniversary appearance was actually quite anticipated. Nowadays, Airborne is seldom seen, and usually he’s mentioned based on the fact his legs (and sometimes torso) were used on Steel Brigade figures.
The Airborne figure has some interesting aspects to it’s sculpting. The figure really appears to be wearing the same 82 Commando sweater, but with a vest over it, and some elbow pads strapped on. This is a cool detail, as the change between 82 and 83 is actually fairly drastic, though less so, if you think about the fact most new characters are wearing environmentally or pilot specific gear. I guess, the real diversion from the first series was the colouring of the figures. Airborne has a solid, yet pale tan base colour (Which is not a match to the Tan Grunt/Clutch/Duke/Doc colour), a sky blue vest, grey, green and brown highlights, and a red unit patch on his arm. It’s a far brighter and more vibrant approach to colouring than the 82 figures had, and there’s more detailing done.
The new style of colouring used in 1983 could’ve gone either way, as the blue used on Airborne and Gung-Ho wasn’t traditionally military. The quality of the two figures overcame it, and they’re figures that can pull it off, and still look good in the jungle or desert or whatever scenario you can place them in. Airborne’s tan base being a fairly unique shade didn’t forever damn him to the desert theatre.
Airborne is one of the molds that has been partially used in the Factory Custom era, so based on how the few parts from the mold that have been done in other colours, it wouldn’t be one I’d be too against seeing fully done up. It also has enough cross pollination with other characters like Scrap Iron or the Brazilian Python Patrol member, Gatilho, that it could be justified. A more militaristic green Airborne or a 2003 style Python Patrol repaint could be very interesting takes on the mold. It’s a sculpt that isn’t too married to the character, as well. That’s one of the issues with some of the Factory Customs, in that they use molds that are obviously very popular, but it can be a double edged sword, as a lot of these popular figures are popular due to the character.
Airborne is another example of G.I. Joe’s approach to visible minority characters, in that he is one, but it doesn’t change the fact that people are people. He’s a Native American, but not the typical “Keeper Of The Land” Indian, but rather a rich off the land Indian. So he did well for himself, but also gave up what could’ve been a comfortable high paying Lawyer gig, to serve his country. The fact his filecard mentioned Oil, led me to look up if Arizona had an Oil industry, turns out it did, and a lot of it was actually on Navajo land, which is where Airborne was from. Little factoids like that, help G.I. Joe be a little more than mindless entertainment. Characters like Airborne and Torpedo make up for every overly stereotypical figure like Spirit.
Still, other than his backstory, Airborne is kind of bland. He’s best remembered for being the gunner in the Dragonfly. However that is perhaps the second most iconic aircraft in the line, after the Skystriker, so an association with that is good for the figure. It gives him a role, even if nowadays the cameo of sitting in the front seat of a Helicopter is one of the few reasons people remember he exists! In a way it’s a shame a figure of such high quality has this banishment, but I guess Airborne did have quite a run as one of the more popular and often seen figures from the early years, at a time when G.I. Joe content had started to involve more and more later era figures and whatever was coming out in stores.