The entire movie had been filmed as a silent, minus a soundtrack, by Howard Hughes in 1928. Greta Nissen had the role played later by Jean Harlow. When sound equipment became available, Hughes decided to re-shoot the whole film as a talkie.
Although it has been reported that Hughes re-shot all the silent material, that seems unlikely looking at the footage shot in the dirigible. The voices are out-of-sync and some of the action seems hurried, suggesting it was shot at a silent speed of 18 frames per second, rather than 24 fps sound speed and dubbed later. Other brief sequences throughout the film, also appear to be shot at silent speed and post-dubbed, suggesting the same possibility.
All color prints of the movie were thought to be lost until a print was found in John Wayne's personal vault in 1989, ten years after the actor's death, by his son Michael Wayne. That explains why the younger Wayne's name appears on the credits of the restored version. It is possible that Wayne received the print from the film's producer/director, Howard Hughes. The actor starred in Jet Pilot (1957) for Hughes in 1949, but the film was not released until 1957 because Hughes continued to have the flying sequences re-shot, a situation not unlike this film.
This film was first telecast on New York City's pioneer television station W2XBS in two parts, Thursday-Friday 10-11 August 1939. It is one of over 200 titles in the list of independent feature films made available for television presentation by Advance Television Pictures announced in Motion Picture Herald 4 April 1942. At this time, television broadcasting was in its infancy, almost totally curtailed by the advent of World War II, and would not continue to develop until 1945-1946.
For the 1939 re-release by Astor Pictures, the film was cut to 90 minutes, mostly to eliminate pre-code sequences which were marginally acceptable in 1930, but no longer permitted after 1934; a six minute prologue about the history of aviation was then added to introduce the film.
Although Hugo Reisenfeld receives screen credit for the film's music score, there is no actual score during the film and the main title music is actually based on a theme from the 5th Symphony by Tschaikowsky. The only music heard in the film is purely source music inherent in the scene.When a band is playing waltzes by Johann Strauss in the party scene for example or if a phonograph record can be seen playing.
Seventy sets were built for the film, including both exterior structures and interiors. Collectively, they cost an approximate $800,000 to build; an additional $70,000 was spent on set dressing. $165,000 went to costumes. The planes that appear in the film were purchased and restored at a cost of $560,000.
Although initial color tests of Jean Harlow were shot by Howard Estabrook, the grand ballroom Technicolor sequence, which ended up in the film, was shot by Ray Rennahan and runs 866 ft., approximately one 35MM reel.