powered by AFI
In Kunming, China, in 1942, pilot Robert L. Scott watches Major General Claire L. Chennault with envy as he briefs a squadron of pilots for an air strike on Japan. The grounded Scott is upset that he will not be able to participate in an action for which he has prepared from the time he was a small boy living on a farm near Macon, Georgia: As a teenager, Scottie buys an old World War I airplane, then in 1932, he graduates from West Point. Later, Scottie qualifies as a pilot at Kelly Field in Texas. After his marriage to Catherine, Scottie trains to be a combat pilot, but when war is declared, is forced to become an instructor, because at thirty-four he is too old to fight. One day, Scottie is ordered to Wright Field in Florida. After additional training, Scottie and his crew fly a B-17 bomber plane under sealed orders to India, where they then wait for further orders. Eventually, the crew learns that they were to bomb Tokyo from a base in the Philippines, but because the Japanese have since occupied the islands, the mission has been canceled. Instead, the crew is assigned to ferry supplies to the Flying Tigers, mercenaries under the leadership of Chennault, who have contracted to fight on behalf of the Chinese government. After Scottie witnesses the Tigers' aggressive response to a Japanese attack, he entreats Chennault to teach him the Tigers' combat techniques. Chennault agrees to loan Scottie a battered airplane to repair and train in. Later, during a solo encounter with the Japanese, Scottie is so effective that the Japanese mistake him for an entire squadron. The killing takes its toll on Scottie, however, and he tries to resolve his feelings during talks with Catholic priest "Big Mike" Harrigan. When the Flying Tigers' contract with the Chinese elapses, Chennault is made a brigadier-general in the U.S. Army Air Force. Goaded by the Japanese, the retiring Flying Tigers decide to stay on until the new Air Force pilots are ready to take over. After the squadron carries out a bombing raid on Hong Kong, which is occupied by the Japanese, Scottie is reported dead. Scottie is alive, but when he returns to the base, he is worn out from malaria attacks and combat fatigue. Although the doctor grounds him, Scottie prays that he be allowed to fly one last mission, and just as the squadron takes off for Tokyo, Chennault sends Scottie with them.