Disney had a special mechanism built especially for this film. Called the "Shaky-cam", it was designed to be the exact opposite of the "Steady-cam", that is, to introduce vibrations into the picture. This was used in the scenes filmed inside the Zeppelin to give the impression of the power of the engines. When the movie went to video, the effect didn't transfer too well, and was therefore steadied.
When Eddie Valentine and his gang learn that Neville Sinclair is a Nazi, they quit working for him and join up with the FBI agents against the Nazi thugs hidden in the shadows. This reflects the attitude of real-life American gangsters during this era, in that they did not like fascism, particularly because Benito Mussolini persecuted the Sicilian Families back in the Old Country. Nor did any Jewish mobsters like Adolf Hitler. In fact, organized crime was one of the biggest allies the American government and law enforcement had when it came to rooting out Nazi spies and collaborators.
During the fight scene on board the zeppelin Cliff says to Neville, "Where's your stuntman now Sinclair?" which Neville replies "I do my own stunts." This line is in reference to Timothy Dalton's time as James Bond, since he is known for being the only Bond actor to perform most of his own stunts in The Living Daylights (1987) and Licence to Kill (1989).
The original inventor of the rocket pack was thirties pulp novel hero Doc Savage, the Man of Bronze, in the original graphic comic book by Dave Stevens. However, because licensing considerations, Disney did not seek permission from Conde Nast, the copyright holder of Doc Savage, and opted to substitute Doc Savage with the flamboyant billionaire Howard Hughes.
In the South Seas Club, Neville Sinclair, a Nazi, greets Clark Gable. This is based on the little known fact that Gable was Adolf Hitler's favorite actor. During WWII, Hitler offered a sizable reward to anyone who could capture Gable and bring him to Germany alive and unscathed.
The Gee Bee racer was nicknamed "The Widowmaker" and "The Flying Coffin" because it was incredibly difficult to fly and was prone to crashing. Because of its speed and maneuverability some pilots raced it in spite of the danger.
In the original graphic novel, Cliff Secord's girlfriend is called Betty Page, not Jenny Blake. Dave Stevens (the creator of the comic novel) based the character "Betty Page" upon his real-life friend, 50's pin-up girl Bettie Page. She would not allow her name to be used in the film.
Billy Campbell, who once studied commercial art, made sure to read the Dave Stevens graphic novel on which this film was based. He got the part after getting a haircut to make himself look identical to the character in the graphic novel.
The plane flown by Cliff in the opening is the Gee Bee racer, specifically Model "Z" from 1931. It was built by the Granville Brothers Aircraft Company (brothers Zantford, Thomas, Robert, Mark, and Edward), hence the plane's initials "G.B." The R-1 was for a time the fastest land-plane in the world, essentially a cockpit, wings, and tail built around an 800 hp Pratt & Whitney Wasp engine. James Doolittle (who would lead the bombing raid over Tokyo in 1942) won the 1932 Thompson Trophy race flying a Gee Bee R-1 at a speed of 252.686 miles per hour.
The decision to cast Billy Campbell as Cliff Secord caused mixed emotions amongst Disney executives. Joe Johnston and Dave Stevens believed Campbell was perfect for the role, but Disney wanted an A-list actor. Johnston eventually convinced Disney otherwise.
The actual Gee Bee used in filming was only allowed to land a very limited amount of times during it's time working on the movie as landings are extremely hard on the landing gear of this particular plane.
'Tiny Ron''s character Lothar is made-up to look like Rondo Hatton who played similar characters in the "B" movies which inspired The Rocketeer (1991). Ron can be seen out of makeup in a cameo as one of two Good Old Boys. He gapes as his companion marvels at the "Big gopher!"
The real Dog Café (the café shaped like a Bulldog) was built in 1928 on West Washington Boulevard but destroyed by weather in the mid '70s. A replica has been a part of the "Streetscape" in the Petersen Automotive Museum since its opening in 1994.
The reproduction of the Gee Bee racer flown by Cliff Secord is currently on display at the Museum Of Flight in Seattle, WA. The original Gee Bee this aircraft was based on was painted in the same color scheme as the one used in the movie, however the original was named the "City of Springfield" and was flown by pilot Lowell Bayles. Bayles flew barefoot, as he said it gave him a better feel of the rudder. He was killed flying this airplane while making a record speed attempt in December 1931.
The fictional German airship "Luxembourg" shown in the film bears the designation "D-LZ130" ("D" for Deutsche or German, "LZ" for Luftschiff Zeppelin, or Zeppelin airship). It is obviously meant to resemble the famous Hindenburg, LZ129, which was destroyed in 1937 a year before the film takes place. There was in fact an LZ130 that was completed in 1938, but that airship never left Germany or carried any commercial passengers. Called "Graf Zeppelin" but historically known as the Graf Zeppelin II (named after the earlier Graf Zeppelin airship, LZ127), the LZ130 was a sister ship to the Hindenburg, nearly identical but with revised internal passenger spaces and redesigned engine cars with tractor instead of pusher propellers. However, the engine cars on the "Luxembourg" match those of the Hindenburg, not the LZ130.
During filming, the scenes involving Jenny with Neville Sinclair (as background in the dueling scene and when they are dining at the South Seas Club) followed each other in the shooting schedule. If you look closely, Jennifer Connelly has a sty in her left eye that a doctor had to lance so that schedule would not be disrupted.
In the opening sequence, when Eddie's goons are being chased by the FBI, Tommy J. Huff (the stunt performer playing "Lenny") was late arriving on set. Thus, when "Lenny" is first seen firing his Thompson Sub-machine gun from the rumble seat, the character is being played by the movie's Transportaion Captain; Randy Musselman.
The trivia items below may give away important plot points.
The model that Cliff glides with to escape from Howard Hughes's warehouse resembled "The Spruce Goose", a plane built by Hughes which was so huge that many people doubted it would ever fly. This explains his "It does fly!" comment. At the time the film was made, Disney owned the Spruce Goose, and it's rumored that they placed this part in the film as a promotion for that attraction, which (apart from the Queen Mary) was the only money losing Disney attraction in the US.
One of Neville Sinclair's final lines is "I'll miss Hollywood" - and he does, as he crashes into the "land" portion of the "Hollywoodland" sign, which is now the "Hollywood" sign. It was built in 1923 to promote real estate property, in 1945 it was given to the city of Los Angeles. In 1949 the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce began a contract with the City of Los Angeles Parks Department to repair and rebuild the sign. The contract stipulated that "LAND" be removed to spell "Hollywood" and reflect the district, not the "Hollywoodland" housing development.
In the opening sequence, when Cliff crash lands the Gee Bee, Alan Arkin (Peevy), narrowly missed being severely injured when a cable pulling the mockup of the plane along the runway snapped; striking Mr. Arkin behind one of his knees.