The title refers not to ships that sprout wings and take off by themselves. The ship is an aircraft carrier, the Invincible, and the "wings" are the torpedo planes, fighters, and bombers that she carries.
There's a love triangle that takes up quite a bit of screen time, with two pilots of the Fleet Air Arm loving the same woman, while yet another woman yearns from afar for one of the smitten aviators -- but enough about that.
The movie introduces us to a couple of airplane types that many movie goers might not be familiar with. The Fairy Fulmar and the Swordfish played important parts in the war but aren't nearly as glamorous (or attractive) as the Spitfire or even the numerous Hurricane versions.
The movie is a war-time flag waver. Everyone is chipper, even those who are about to die and know it. They crack mild jokes about it. A young aviator cashiered for cowardice and misbehavior (don't worry; he was innocent) redeems himself through an act of heroism that, had it been performed by an enemy, would have been called fanatical.
Given all the grins and dash and bonhomie, Ealing Studios pulled together the right cast: John Clements as the protagonist, Leslie Banks (the self-reliant father in Hitchcock's first version of "The Man Who Knew Too Much"), uber-handsome Michael Wilding as a fighter pilot, Michael Rennie as Lieutenant Maxwell the pilot of a torpedo plane (I had to get that name in there), and John Laurie ("Do ye eat the herring?") as another pilot. And how curious to see Cecil Parker, who excelled at dithering in British movies, as a stern and monocled German officer. Ann Todd is the devoted blond who sacrifices herself for the general will.
But all that is icing on the cake. The cake itself consists of scenes of flight, conflict, and combat. The Germans lose, of course, and the Italians are ridiculed. The visual effects are of the period -- pre-CGI, pre-Ray Harryhausen, pre-everything except wooden toys afloat in bath tubs -- and yet they're very well done. And they're interpolated with some nifty real scenes of aircraft aboard the Invincible, played by the ever-popular and doomed HMS Ark Royal. Somehow the primitive effects, including airplanes levitating from the runways on take off, don't spoil the fun. And it IS fun, even the scenes of tragedy, because they're over with in a jiffy and nobody really suffers much.
The mano a mano brutality is muted, but some of the material is rather racy and probably wouldn't have passed in a contemporary Hollywood production. A man's voice on the radio tells a naval officer: "She has a beautiful pair of legs, and a beautiful pair of eyes, and a beautiful pair --", and the officer shuts the radio off. I enjoyed it, but I usually enjoy movies about airplanes as long as they clear my bar, which is set pretty low.