As no studios would back the film, a group of filmmakers and investors including producer 'Dean Devlin (I)' and (according to press-releases) "ace pilot" David Ellison, son of Oracle Corp. founder Larry Ellison, spent more than $60 million of their own money to make and market this film.
The character of Skinner is based on the Escadrille-pilot Eugene Bullard, an American who had gone to France and worked as a boxer there. He was also a son of a slave, just like Skinner. Bullard was rejected from the Lafayette Escadrille by a prejudiced white man. He served in another escadrille in the Lafayette Flying Corps.
The triplane fighter flown by the German pilots is the Fokker DR 1 designed by Dutch aviation pioneer Anthony Fokker. Due to the fact that Manfred Von Richthofen (the Red Barron) and a few other high scoring German aces developed an almost cult-like devotion to the plane, it has always enjoyed a reputation out of all proportion to its actual merits or contribution to the German war effort. In truth only 320 were produced and they were only in front line service from late 1917 to mid 1918. The plane's chief merits were a rapid rate of climb and the ability to make lightning fast turns to the right due to the torque effect of its rotary engine. Highly experienced pilots were able to use this to great advantage in combat but these same characteristics were very dangerous to inexperienced aviators and there were numerous accidents. On the down side the design was plagued with structural problems, chiefly the tendency of the ailerons to separate from the upper wing or the total structural failure of the upper wing during high G maneuvers. These problems were initially attributed to poor quality control at the Fokker plant and that was certainly a factor, but post war testing also revealed that the plane had serious design flaws that caused a dangerously high G loading on the upper wing during air combat maneuvering. Ironically, Fokker's follow on design, the biplane Fokker D7 fighter is widely regarded as the best fighter design of the war and yet it receives considerably less attention than his problematic triplane.
The light-weight Nieuport replicas were indeed grounded, but the full-size Sopwith 1 1/2 Strutter actually flew for the film. In the best Hollywood tradition, it played several parts with different "makeup" (water based paint) for each. The Sopwith is now at the Virginia Beach Military Aviation Museum and flies regularly.
In the scene where the pilots are painting or having painted personalizations on the sides of their airplanes, Lyle Porter is painting a banner that reads "Timothy CH. IV V. 7". This is reference to a chapter and verse in the Book of Timothy in the Bible. There are TWO books of Timothy in the Bible, both having a chapter IV and verse 7. However, more than likely, this would be a reference to the SECOND book of Timothy, chapter IV, verse 7, which reads, "I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith:", which might be something a very religious combat pilot might reference on the side of his combat airplane. That same-numbered chapter and verse in the FIRST book does not read anything like having to do with fighting or combat.
Blaine Rawlings home town of Aberdeen, Texas, actually existed as a tiny community during World War I. Located in the state's Panhandle, it ceased to exist in 1963. The former location of Aberdeen is about 5-miles from the nearest paved road.
Contrary to a note made by another contributor, the N-prefixed number on the French fighters' tail-planes is perfectly authentic and not at all anachronistic. The N was the identification code for Nieuport, the number was its production number in the series.
This film's opening prologue states: "By the start of 1916, World War I had wreaked havoc across Europe. Over nine million people would eventually die. Although the airplane had only recently been invented, it was quickly adapted into a war machine. The young men who flew them became the first fighter pilots and a new kind of hero was born."
The trivia item below may give away important plot points.
James Francos character cuts the left arm off a fellow pilot when trapped by an immovable object (in this case his plane). Four years later in 127 Hours (2010) James Franco cuts off his right arm when trapped by an immovable object (a boulder)