At the United States Air Force Flight Test School at Edwards Air Force Base in Southern California, instructor Capt. Steve Morley glumly awaits the arrival of the new crop of students. Steve, a seasoned pilot, resents “playing nursemaid to a bunch of glory jockeys,” and has consequently requested a transfer into flight operations. The new class is comprised of Kurt Weber, a pilot who flew for Germany during World War II but is now an American citizen; the womanizing Maj. Mike Geron; class clown and show-off Capt. Murphy and Lt. Jimmy Erskine and his roommate, Lt. Bob Kiley. Erskine, who flew fighter planes in the Korean War, snubs Kurt because he is German. Later that night, Steve meets his sweetheart, Susan Blair, who works as a secretary for Lt. Col. Spalding. Still brooding about being relegated to the role of instructor, Steve treats Susan with indifference. The next day, Steve lectures his students about “staying ahead of the game,” but his words fall on deaf ears as his restless pupils want to take to the sky, not sit in class. When Steve learns that his request for a transfer has been denied, Susan warns that his negative attitude will destroy him and suggests breaking off their relationship. Disregarding Susan’s advice, Steve remains hypercritical of his students, thus earning their antagonism. As their schooling continues, Kurt befriends Kiley, who is having difficulty memorizing the myriad facts necessary to pass the course. Their friendship offends Erskine, who tells Kiley that his brother met his death in World War II at the hands of a German pilot. After Kiley flunks out of school, he tells Erskine that Kurt’s parents were killed in an air raid by American pilots and asks him to show compassion to the German. At the officers' club that night, Erskine approaches Kurt and expresses his sorrow for the loss of his parents. Mike, noticing that Susan is alone, offers to drive her home. As they approach Susan’s apartment door, Mike makes romantic overtures and she asks him to leave. After Mike departs, Steve pounds at Susan’s door, angered that she allowed Mike to drive her home. When Steve accuses Susan of improper behavior, she slaps his face and orders him to leave. After Steve is unexpectedly called out of class the next day, Murphy steps up to the blackboard and begins to draw funny, lewd pictures. When Steve reenters the room and finds Murphy at the blackboard, he berates the students. Later, Capts. Andy Anderson and Cory Dexter, Steve’s fellow flight instructors, caution Steve that he is treating his students too harshly. Frustrated, Steve again asks Spalding for a transfer, and when the colonel denies his request on the grounds that they need exceptional pilots to train the students, Steve declares that he is resigning. At the officers' club that night, Mrs. Blocher, the camp gossip, tells Susan that Steve is “cracking up.” Concerned, Susan asks Mike why Steve is so disliked. Realizing that Susan is still in love with Steve, Mike seeks him out and warns him that he is throwing Susan’s love away. On a training mission the next day, Murphy shows off by buzzing an observation tower, earning a reprimand from Steve. After Murphy is expelled for his irresponsible behavior, the students, certain that Steve is responsible, ostracize him. Later, they discover that Murphy was reported by the controller in the tower and not Steve. On the day of the dangerous spin-test maneuver, Erskine and Kurt perform flawlessly. Steve then takes Mike up, but after the aircraft’s engine flames out, Mike passes out, sending the plane spinning dangerously out of control. On the ground, the students and flight crew gear up for a crash, but in the plane, Steve seizes the controls and lands the aircraft safely. Afterward, Mike, aware that Steve could have bailed out of the plane and left him to die, thanks him for saving his life. When Steve returns to the base, Susan tells him that she is proud of him. Five days before graduation, Steve’s students disrupt class to drag him to a surprise party in his honor. After the group toasts Steve, he and Susan reconcile. At the graduation ceremony, as Steve’s students man their planes, he takes his hat off to them.