Waldo Pepper (Redford) is a very frustrated man. Though a veteran of World War I, he was made a flying instructor and never saw combat. He yearns to show the world he is a great pilot, perhaps by being the first to fly the outside loop.
He and his friend Axel Olsson (Svenson) make a precarious living barnstorming. During one aerial stunt, a new wing walker (Susan Sarandon) becomes petrified out on the wing. Waldo carefully edges out to try to coax her in, but she ignores his instructions, grabs for his hand and falls to her death.
Then Waldo's friend, Ezra Stiles (Edward Hermann), crashes while trying the outside loop. As Waldo frantically tries to free him from the wreckage, the spectators gather around, but do nothing to help. A carelessly tossed cigarette ignites leaking fuel, burning Ezra to death. Waldo grabs a plane and buzzes the watching "vultures", resulting in him being grounded permanently.
Waldo persists, however. He gets a job as a Hollywood stunt pilot under an alias. The movie stars Ernst Kessler (Bo Brundin), the great German ace. While the two men are up in the air to reenact a famous duel, they decide to dogfight for real. Without working guns, they simply ram each other. Waldo eventually damages Kessler's plane so badly the German is forced to concede. Waldo finally has his heart's desire.
Best part of story, including ending:
The aerial shots are spectacular.
Best scene in story:
The final duel isn't half bad, but the outside loop footage, filmed from the vantage point of the plane, tops it, for me at least.
Opinion about the main character:
You have to sympathize with a man who is unable to utilize his great
talent to its fullest for so long.