Director Frank Capra was upset with Jack Holt's refusal to stand up in the plane that was flying, until he learned that Holt had been playing with the ripcord. The parachute had opened, and had Holt stood up he would have been dragged out of the plane. A red ribbon was tied to Holt's ripcord for the remainder of filming.

Aerial shots of the actors were taken from real planes, without trick photography. However, Jack Holt's plane crashed during filming, causing minor injuries. Deliberate airplane crashes were done with models.

The invasion of Nicaragua to avenge the deaths of US Marines was based on at least one actual incident. On February 27, 1928, a band of Sandinista rebels killed five Marines and wounded eight others in an ambush.

The wrong-way run was based on the infamous play by Roy Riegels of the University of California in the 1929 Rose Bowl. With the score 0-0 in the second quarter, Riegels recovered a Georgia Tech fumble at the Yellow Jackets' 30, but he somehow got turned the wrong way and ran 65 yards toward his own goal line. A teammate grabbed him, but he was dropped at his own 1. The Golden Bears elected to punt, the punt was blocked out of the end zone for a safety touch and the two points provided the margin of victory in Georgia Tech's 8-7 win. The movie uses actual footage of Riegels from the game.

Frank Capra had 28 airplanes as well as mechanics and pilots at his disposal, supplied by the US Marine Corps, including technical advisor Francis E. Pierce, who served in Nicaragua in 1928.