Two brothers compete as pilots and for the love of the same woman.
During a storm a passenger plane is missing. Injured pilot Jim Blaine (Richard Barthelmess) signals with a mirror. The crash is blamed on the pilot Blaine. From a train Jim watches a plane doing tricks. Jim's father (Grant Mitchell) and mother welcome him home. His brother Neil Blaine (Tom Brown) was flying the stunts. Jim says that he won't get to fly passengers anymore. Neil got a job as a test pilot, while Jim takes Neil's job in the bank. Jim helps parachutist Jill Collins (Sally Eilers) get down from a tree. They see her brother crash to his death. Jim is hired to fly as her stunt pilot. Jim kisses her while flying upside down. Jim tells her he won't marry, because flying is too dangerous. Jill locks Jim out of her room.
Neil sees Jill in a restaurant and finds Jim. A plane runs wild on the ground, and Jim has to spend another month in the hospital. Neil takes Jim's job with the circus and Jill. They work their way to Dallas. Jim brings a ring but arrives to find Neil and Jill sleeping together and married. Jim leaves abruptly. A friend tells Neil and Jill that Jim is head of an air force in China. Neil is cabled to report to the Havana central airport. Another friend tells Neil and Jill that Jim lost an eye fighting revolutions in South America. Neil takes off from Havana. Jill sees a stunt flyer, and Jim with a patch on one eye lands.
In the hotel room Jim hears Jill humming, and he whistles. They meet in the hall and embrace. They dine together. Jill tells Jim that her love for Neil is different than for him. Jim shows her the ring he bought, and they dance. At the hotel Jim kisses Jill. They hear news of a lost passenger plane. Jill calls and learns it is Neil. Jim says sea planes will take too long, and he goes in his plane. Neil and the passengers wait in the plane filling with water in the storm; they get on top of the plane. Jim drops flares searching. Neil's co-pilot is drowned trying to save a drunk. Jim sees them and lands, throwing a rope. Neil and three passengers board his plane, Neil holding on from the wing. Jim takes off from the water. An emergency field is lighted by having cars go there. Jim runs out of gas. Cars blow their horns, and Jim lands the plane. Jill sees Jim and kisses Neil. In the final scene the admiring Neil and Jill say good-bye to Jim as he takes off.
Director William Wellman and Barthelmess were both aviators, giving this film extraordinary realism. Jim gave Jill the wrong impression and changed his mind too late, providing an important object lesson to young lovers.