The sequence where Robert Downey, Jr. is seen hanging from a rope flying across the skies above Thailand, including a Buddhist temple, was done for real, with Downey performing the stunt himself, after Director Roger Spottiswoode had rejected doing it, using such alternative techniques as bluescreen or back projection.
According to Wikipedia, "PepsiCo wanted the filmmakers to use a fictional soda, rather than show opium being refined at their abandoned factory. Therefore, the producers added a line about wondering if Pepsi knew what was going on."
This film was released eleven years after the source book by Christopher Robbins had been published. The book was released ten years after the events depicted in it. The book was one of several published works by the author on the film's subject area.
In the Special Edition DVD "Making of" documentary, there is a discussion as to how much of Air America's plot is true, and how much is false. Some of the real-life pilots interviewed, claim that Air America did smuggle guns and drugs for the C.I.A., while others deny it, saying that the service only shipped food, medicine, and supplies. However, a historian in the documentary, asserts that only certain pilots were involved in the illegal activities. The characters of Gene and Billy are a perfect example of this. Gene, who is a bit crazy, cynical, and shady, has no problem getting involved in the illegal smuggling, so he, and pilots like him, would have been used for the real-life illegal smuggling. Whereas Billy, who is young, honest, and idealistic, would be used only for the straight supply drops, and would not be trusted for such illegal activities.
The "golden BB", about which Jack Neely talks, is a slang term referring to a single rifle shot that is so well placed, it can bring down a plane or other aircraft. Such a shot is demonstrated in the opening of the film.
The movie was originally developed around 1985, with Richard Rush at the helm as director. The film was intended to be the first comedy about Vietnam, but Good Morning, Vietnam (1987) beat it to the screens. Moreover, the Australian war movie about Vietnam, The Odd Angry Shot (1979), was a comedy.
The movie is set in 1969. When Billy receives the notice that his pilot license has been canceled, there is a poster in the background of an astronaut on the moon. That poster could not have existed before July 1969 when the first moon landing was made. Thus this movie had to happen in the last five months of 1969.
According to Writer/Director Richard Rush, he had made a deal with Carolco Pictures for the film to be made there with the intention of directing the film himself after adapting Christopher Robbins book. Andrew Vajna then took the film away from Rush and brought in is own people to rework the story line.
When Writer/Director Richard Rush had planned to Direct the film himself, he had already cast Sir Sean Connery as Gene Ryack in what would become Mel Gibson's role later when the film would be eventually was Directed by Roger Spottswoode. Connery loved the script and really wanted to work with Rush. Connery would go on to film "The Hunt For Red October" in its stead.
When Richard Rush was attached to direct the film, he fought very hard to cast Kevin Costner as Billy Covington whom Andrew Vajna was completely against casting. Rush wanted him very badly for the film but when the project fell apart, Costner went on to Direct Dances With Wolves his Oscar winning film.
Writer/Director Richard Rush almost practically disowns this film because of his conflict with Andrew Vajna. The reasons Rush cited were that he reneged on his deal, and he did let him cast Sean Connery and Kevin Costner. Vanja soon hired a pair of writers to completely rework Rush's screenplay and went on to hire both Mel Gibson and Robert Downey, Jr. as the films stars soon after.