The only movie to ever win an Academy Award for Best Production. In the Oscars' first year of existence, two "Best Picture"-type awards were given: This film was awarded Best Production and Sunrise (1927) was awarded Best Artistic Quality of Production. Both awards were discontinued the following year and replaced by the modern Best Picture Oscar; Best Production is usually thought of as that award's equivalent.
In contrast to co-star Richard Arlen, Charles 'Buddy' Rogers did not know how to fly a plane when production began, but he learned how to do so by the end of it. During filming, Rogers flight instructor and sometime backup pilot was Lt. Hoyt "Van" Vandenberg, an Army Air Corps pilot at California's March Field. (Vandenberg later became a general, commanding the 9th Air Force in World War II, and serving as the U.S. Air Force's first official chief of staff after the war.) For close-up scenes where Jack and David (and other characters) are flying, the actors are actually working the planes themselves. To shoot these scenes, a camera was strapped to the engine cowling. The actors had to get the plane up in the air, keep it up, fly the plane so that the clouds or German fighter planes could be seen in the background, operate the (motorized) camera, and land the plane-and act at the same time. During Buddy Rogers' early flights, Lt. Vandenberg would hide in the back seat of the plane and operate the controls while Rogers gave his performance.
According to biographer David Stenn, Clara Bow did not like her military uniform, as it did not show off her figure. She kept fighting with the costumers to let her wear a tight belt and show off her curves.
With the thousands of extras battling on the ground, dozens of airplanes flying around in the sky and hundreds of explosions going off everywhere, the only two injuries on the entire picture were incurred. One was by veteran stunt pilot Dick Grace. A plane he was crashing was supposed to completely turn over, but it only turned partly over. Instead of being thrown clear of the plane as was the plan, Grace was hurled against part of the fuselage and broke his neck. He returned to the company after six weeks in the hospital. The other was by one of the army pilots helping out on the shoot. His crash was fatal and director William A. Wellman feared it would shut down production, but the army held the pilot, not the director, responsible.
Director William A. Wellman appears in the film, in what today could be called a "cameo" (although he does "speak"). During the final battle scene Wellman, portraying a doughboy, is shot and exclaims "Atta boy. Them buzzards are some good after all."
In 1925 and 1926, Byron Morgan sent ideas for a story about air service in World War I to Famous Players Lasky Corporation. The Company agreed when he brought this to their attention, and settled with him for $3750 which included his waiving claims to all rights to his material.
Director William A. Wellman based much of his work in the film on his experiences as a combat pilot during World War I. While stationed in France, Wellman joined the French Foreign Legion's Lafayette Flying Corps, N.87, les Chats Noir (Black Cat Group). The plane he flew was Nieuport 24 fighter, which he named "Celia" after his mother. He was credited with three recorded "kills" of enemy aircraft, plus five probable kills. Wellman was shot down in combat and survived the crash, but walked with a limp for the rest of his life. He received the Croix du Guerre for his service. After the war, Wellman returned home and joined the U.S. Army Air Corps for two years, where he taught combat tactics to new pilots at Rockwell Field in San Diego.
This played for 63 weeks at its first engagement cinemas. One of the reasons why it was such a resounding success was because the public had become obsessed with aviation following Charles Lindbergh's successful transatlantic flight.