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The working titles of this film were Yanks Over the Burma Road and Yanks Over Singapore. According to Hollywood Reporter news items, M-G-M had also considered using the title Yanks Over the Burma Road for the 1942 picture A Yank on the Burma Road (see below), but could not do so because Republic was the first company to register the title with the Hays Office. After the opening credits, there is a picture of Generalissimo Chiang Kai-Shek and the following written prologue, which is signed by Chiang: "Since the Flying Tigers first spread their wings in the skies above China, the enemy has learned to fear the intrepid spirit they have displayed in face of his superior numbers. They have become the symbol of the invincible strength of the forces now upholding the cause of justice and humanity. The Chinese people will preserve forever the memory of their glorious achievements."
The picture was loosely based on the real-life American Volunteer Group, who were known as the Flying Tigers. The group was organized by Brigadier General Claire Chennault, an American former Air Force pilot who recruited and trained pilots to fight in defense of Burma (now Myanmar). In 1937, Chennault went to China as an advisor to an aviation school sponsored by Madame Chiang Kai-Shek, and by the summer of 1941, he had began recruiting American personnel to join the fight. The Chinese government paid the flyers a bonus for every Japanese plane they shot down, and between December 1941 and July 1942, Chennault's men were responsible for destroying almost 300 Japanese aircraft. In July 1942, Chennault's group was replaced by the regular Army Air Corps, which some of his men joined. At the end of WWII, Chennault formed a private airline, the Civil Air Transport, which evolved into the CIA-led Air America after Chennault's death. The Flying Tiger Line, which was started by AVG pilot Bob Prescott after the war, became one of the largest air-freight carriers in the United States.
According to a January 30, 1942 Daily Variety news item, Republic purchased an "original story" entitled "The Flying Tigers" from Charles M. Ross, but the extent of Ross's contribution to the completed picture has not been determined. On June 14, 1942, New York Times reported the Republic dropped plans to have an actor playing Chiang appear in the film after being informed by "the Hays Office that it would be improper to show the Generalissimo without permission." Apparently the script originally called for Chiang to bring "Woody Jason" back to the American base, but when the plans were changed, "Woody" was killed instead.
A April 3, 1942 Los Angeles Times news item noted that a copy of the script had been sent to M-G-M contract player Laraine Day for consideration. Presumably she was being sought for the part of "Brooke Elliott." Hollywood Reporter news items include Helen Peyton and George Givot in the cast, but their participation in the completed picture has not been confirmed. Director David Miller and actor John Carroll were borrowed from M-G-M for this production, which modern sources note was John Wayne's first "war picture." Victor Young, who wrote the musical score, was borrowed from Paramount. Hollywood Reporter news items noted that Lawrence Moore and Kenneth Sanger were members of the American Volunteer Group who were invalided home from Burma. In addition to serving as technical advisors for the film, Hollywood Reporter noted that they suggested two sequences which were included in the film and that they were to be included in the cast.
According to the Hollywood Reporter review, the picture included "some clips of dog-fighting from confiscated Japanese reels. The ground fire by Jap ack-acks is also actual footage, as is that shot of the deserted Chinese child, crying amid the bombing rubble." Although a Hollywood Reporter news item noted that Republic constructed its own fleet of P-40 fighter planes, by "using obsolete planes and re-designing its own simulted P-40s at a reported cost of $2,200," studio publicity revealed that some aircraft sequences were shot at the Curtiss-Wright Aircraft Co. in Buffalo, NY. According to the film's pressbook, "The Curtiss people had painted up a squadron of real P-40s with the well known tiger shark design to be used in these scenes and the company made their test pilots and stunt flyers available to depict some of the precision flight formations for which the 'Tigers' were famous." The pressbook further notes that these scenes "had to be sent to Washington, D.C. for censorship, so that no vital information could reach the enemy....No scene showing the interior of a plane could be shown. In fact Republic had to design an instrument board of its own for cockpit closeups."
According to Hollywood Reporter news items, "action and plane footage" was shot on location at Flagstaff, AZ. Hollywood Reporter news items also noted that the picture was "lined up for more first run playing time than any previous Republic offering," and that by November 18, 1942, the film had "broken all the company's [box-office] records by a tremendous margin" and the gross receipts were on the "way to the $2,000,000 mark." Curtiss-Wright continued its association with the picture, according to Hollywood Reporter, in its employment drive: "All persons making application for jobs with the company were handed a pair of tickets to the picture to convince them of the importance of plane manufacture in the war."
The picture received Academy Award nominations for Sound Recording, Music Score and Special Effects. Modern sources note that the planes built by Republic for the film were constructed with the aid of United Air Services, which was run by Paul Mantz, who is also listed as appearing the film as a stunt flyer. Supervising the construction were Mantz's chief pilot Clarence "Ace" Bragunier and chief mechanic Robert King. Modern sources add Ted Lydecker (Special Effects) and William D. Pawley (Technical Advisor) to the production crew. Pawley was an executive of the Curtiss-Wright Aircraft Co.
A August 14, 1942 Hollywood Reporter news item asserted that after viewing a rough cut of the film, Republic executives "decided to produce a sequel titled The Sky Dragons that will show the AVG flyers in China following their absorption into the Army." Although Edmund Grainger was slated to produce and John Wayne to star, the sequel was not made. Shortly before Flying Tigers' release, Grainger entered the Signal Corps. According to a November 2, 1966 Hollywood Reporter news item, rights to the film were purchased by producer Richard Michaels, who intended to develop the story into a one-hour television series. The project was not completed, however.