Basil Poledouris had originally been scheduled to score Dances with Wolves (1990) but reluctantly dropped out to score this film for his close friend John Milius, with extremely damaging results to his career when he found himself suddenly unemployable at any studio making a picture with the then-hot Kevin Costner. To make matters worse, the film's release was delayed by nearly two years so he could have easily had time to score both films.
Near the end of the film, the phonetic alphabet phrase "Alpha Mike Foxtrot" is spoken over the radio. This is an abbreviation for "Adios Motherfucker", which is said over the radio by downed aircrews, when they know death or capture is imminent.
It took multiple takes to do the scene in the ready room where Guffy (Douglas Roberts) urinates in the coffee cup, the ship had a fire and a medical emergency in that same area about 20 minutes apart that disrupted the filming. Both the fire and medical emergency were involving the film crew.
A 1:160 scale model of the city of Hanoi was built for the filming of the bomb-runs scenes. Buildings closer to the camera were detailed more while the furthest away buildings in the backround we only painted blocks of wood.
The song that Jake "Cool Hand" Grafton (Brad Johnson) and Virgil Cole (Willem Dafoe) gleefully sing in their A-6 Intruder after their successful bomb run on Hanoi is the 1964 hit Downtown made popular by British pop singer Petula Clark. During the Vietnam War going "Downtown" was military slang for bombing Hanoi.
The prop-driven aircraft strafing & bombing Cmdr. Frank 'Dooke' Camparelli's crash area appear to be Douglas A-1 Skyraiders - produced just about too late for the end of WWII, but saw lots of service in the Korean War and in Viet Nam.
During the newsreel scene, there is a shot of a drop tank with the squadron designation of VA-165. While the story was centered around VA-196, VA-165 was actually the squadron used to film the movie. All of the aircraft used for filming were re-painted with VA-196 markings used during the Viet Nam conflict era.
The scenes outside during the hearing in Subic Bay were actually shot at Naval Station Long Beach. USS Sides (FFG-14) can be clearly seen nested with other modern frigates. The benches were part of a small park for sailors to relax without leaving the base.
Milius arrived on board aircraft carrier USS Ranger (CV-61) 16 March 1991 in response to a sailor's letter to John E. Ferraro, VP Acquisitions, Paramount Pictures Corporation, asking them to provide a copy of the war movie that came out while Ranger was at war. (Letter from Robert D. Graham, 22 FEB 91, FITRON ONE (VF-1).
The trivia item below may give away important plot points.
After being shot down over Vietnam Danny Glover's character is rescued by a pilot who commandeers an aircraft against orders. In 1988 in the movie "Bat*21." Danny Glover plays a pilot who similarly commandeers an aircraft against orders to affect a rescue of someone shot down over Vietnam.