A ruthless aviation pioneer drives his partners and employees to establish the first commercial flights across the Pacific Ocean.
Dave Logan (Pat O'Brien) and his wife Jean 'Skippy' Logan (Beverly Roberts) are inspired by Lindbergh's flight. Dave quits his job to go into commercial aviation; but flying Washington to Philadelphia is a failure, and he is fired. Dad Brunn (Henry B. Walthall) designs a flying boat, as Dave and Tom Collins (Ross Alexander) become partners in a new airline. Jean wants to leave but agrees to hold on. Dave and Tom plan flights from Key West to Havanna, and Dave hires Hap Stuart (Humphrey Bogart) as a pilot. Jean goes back to New York. Dave makes the first flight and begins the Caribbean route, but he gets no help from the Commerce or State departments in South America. During a hurricane Dave offers emergency help. The Pan American Union and the Red Cross honor him for helping to save 28,000 people. Trans-Ocean Airways extends across South America. Dave trains pilots and tells Dad to design a long-range plane. Dave balls out Tom and Hap, then demotes Bill Anderson. Hap quits, saying Dave has become inhuman.
Tom tells Jean that Dave is working too hard, and he hopes she will go back to him. Jean calls on Dave at his New York office, but he goes right on working. Tom comes in and says two pilots quit the school. Dave offers a career to pilots, who complete the school. Jean asks about being together. Dave says no and then kisses her when she pleads. The big wing fails a difficult test imposed by Washington engineers. Dave asks engineers to design a large plane to fly passengers 3500 miles; but they refuse. Dave goes back to Dad, who agrees; but a doctor tells Dad he has a heart condition and should not work. The career policy brings Hap back to go through the school. Hap tests a plane in a storm and is missing for seven hours. Dave sends Hap and Tom to Midway to prepare bases in the Pacific. An executive complains that Dave has spent $800,000 and that they will never meet the deadline in Asia.
The Trans-Pacific plane is tested. Dave orders Tom to supervise on the ground and Hap to fly. Jean asks Dave for work and has been employed. The China Clipper takes off from the San Francisco Bay. After 18 hours it lands at Honolulu, takes off for Midway, then Wake Island, Guam, and Manila with one day to the deadline for Asian landing rights. Dave orders the plane to take off for Macao during a storm. Tom objects, and they learn that Dad died. The engines are overhauled, and Dave agrees to let Hap decide when it is safe. Hap flies in the typhoon and lands at Macao. Dave plans a New York to London flight. In the final scene Tom flies passengers to China, and Dave hugs Jean.
Dave's unrelenting ambition produces commercial success; but his engineer dies, and his wife is neglected. The story is familiar, because it's not unusual.