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The working title of this film was Plane No. 4. According to a news item in Hollywood Reporter, Dick Rosson began as second unit director on the picture but was called back to M-G-M and replaced by Sam Nelson in mid-January 1939. Roy Davidson and Edwin C. Hahn were nominated for a special technical Academy Award for their special effects work on this picture. Modern sources note that technical advisor Paul Mantz also worked as chief pilot on the film and add Robert Sterling to the cast in his motion picture debut. According to modern sources, the film was based on a story fragment that Howard Hawks wrote in 1938 entitled "Plane from Barranca." In an interview, Hawks said that he conceived of the idea for the story while he was flying with a Mexican bush pilot around Mexico. On May 29, 1939, the Lux Radio Theatre presented a radio version of the story featuring the film's stars.