The story revolves around the pilots and crew of an RFC airbase, who deal with the stress of combat primarily through nightly bouts of heavy drinking.
The two aces of the group, Courtney (Richard Barthelmess) and Scott (Douglas Fairbanks Jr), have come to hate the commanding officer, Brand (Neil Hamilton), blaming him for sending fresh pilots directly into combat. Unknown to them, Brand has been arguing continually with his commanders to allow him practice time with the new pilots, but command is desperate to maintain air superiority and orders them into combat as soon as they arrive. Brand is so disliked by the two he can't even easily join the men for the nightly partying, drinking alone and clearly breaking under the strain.
The tension grows worse when an elite German squadron, implied to be the Red Baron's, takes up position on the line across from them. After losing several of the squadron's long-timers the ranks become increasingly made up of new recruits, who have absolutely no chance against the Germans. In the midst of this Brand is recalled to headquarters and Courtney is promoted to commander.
It is not long before he also learns of the impossibility of the job, and his relationship with Scott quickly sours. Things grow considerably worse when his brother appears as one of the fresh recruits. He then goes through his own pleading with headquarters, only to be refused, and his brother is killed on his first mission.
The film ends when Courtney eventually discovers the only way out: after learning of what amounts to a suicide mission far behind enemy lines, he "steals" the loaded plane out from under Scott who had volunteered to take it.
DAWN PATROL TAKES FLYING TO DIFFERENT HEIGHTS ULTRALIGHT PILOTS CAN SKIM LAND'S SURFACE, SOAR 500 FEET INTO SKY.(News/ National/ International)
Sep 14, 1997; Byline: Dru Wilson The Gazette COLORADO SPRINGS -- As the sun edges up over the horizon, the pilots listen to their flight leader...