To prepare for his role as a mail aviator, actor Christopher Reeve studied the history of mail flight of the period the film was set. Reeve once said: "Although the life of a mail pilot in 1928 was specialized and may seem a little remote, people will understand him . . . There was an article in a 1926 National Geographic about this new daring breed of men written much the same way they wrote about the astronauts in the sixties . . . They were cheating death. If you got to be 35 you were known as an old pilot".
In his autobiography "Still Me" (1998), Christopher Reeve said: "The producers had no idea that I could actually fly a Stearman but agreed with me that if I did my own piloting, we would have opportunities to make the film more realistic than if we use a double. I could throw a couple of mailbags into the plane and then hop in, start the engine, and take off, all in one shot. We would also be able to film air-to-air from a helicopter instead of having to cut to close-ups shot in the studio".
One of Christopher Reeve's hobbies was flying. At the time the movie was made and released, Reeve flew his own six-passenger twin engine Beechcraft plane. Reeve was a qualified pilot with around 2,000 hours flying experience and had commercial, instrument, and multi-engine ratings. Reeve once said: "I thought it would be fun to mix acting and airplanes. Flying is something that comes naturally to me; it certainly helped me with Superman".
The names of the wolves that appeared in the movie were Akela, Dorka, Ivon, Kolchak, Levi, and Sash. Wolf trainer Cheryl Shawver once said of the scene where Levi attacks Christopher Reeve: "He is not really attacking. He is coming for a piece of bait that Christopher has in his hand. Levi also snarls on command. He looks very ferocious and has this great big full-teeth snarl, but again, it is only for a reward".
Christopher Reeve's performance and characterization was partially inspired by Charles Lindbergh. Reeve once said: "To a certain extent I was thinking of him. The idea of a man who is capable of great acts of heroism without any self awareness, amazes me. He was a man who'd be likely to say, 'well, then I flew the Atlantic, a lot of people met me at the airport and then I went to the Ambassador's house for dinner...'. He had a flare for understatement".
Director George Miller once said of the film's aerial sequences: "The special effects on this film were spectacular because we were able to spend a lot of time on the flying sequences". Christopher Reeve has said of them: "My favorite days involved flying, acting, and a little directing as well. A camera would be mounted on the wing, and I would take off with instructions from the director of photography to find a suitable location to film myself on the mail run. The director and crew would hang around the airfield until I returned a couple of hours later".
Some movie posters for the film featured a text preamble that read: "He is a veteran pilot, a man who has seen and done it all . . . But now, for the first time, he has a passenger. And his greatest adventure is about to begin..."
Hollywood made another film with the same title around nineteen years later with Martin Scorsese's The Aviator (1985). That movie was a big success garnering eleven Academy Award nominations whereas this film was a critical and commercial flop.
The picture was the second romantic period film that Christopher Reeve made in five years. The first had been Somewhere in Time (1980). Reeve once said: "I felt it would be interesting to play an old-fashioned story like The Aviator (1985) without being too sentimental . . . The film works on several levels, certainly as a survival picture with beautiful scenery and exciting action, but also on human terms as a man is cut off from his feelings and soul".
One of two mid-1980s movies involving early 20th Century aviation. The other film was High Road to China (1983) which also featured bi-planes, was also set around the same period era of post-World War I and was also filmed in the same Yugoslavian [now Croatian] region around Rijeka.