Slocum's and Pete's L5 observation aircraft are on their way to their airfield. As Slocum, the lead aircraft, radio's for clearance, he's told to divert to another airfield farther away. So he and Pete have to nurse their thirsty planes to the very extreme of their range. As the planes come in to land, they spot burning aircraft and dead bodies all over the runway. I'll admit, setting this up must've cost the filmmakers a nice bit of their operating budget unless the military "volunteered" some personnel and spare parts. In any event, they land and disembark, and as Pete comes rushing up to Slocum, a hidden North Korean with a machine gun (a drum-fed .45 Tommy gun, no less) starts shooting at them. Slocum manages to kill the hidden sniper with his Browning .45 automatic pistol at long range (nice shot!) and goes charging into the airside building where the sniper had been hiding.
There, he sees a young Korean boy (William Chun) tied up and shoeless. Just as the boy yells out, Slocum is attacked by a hidden soldier. As he is engaged hand-to-hand by the Communist, Pete gets jumped on by a Communist on the roof. Slocum manages to beat his attacker to death, grab a gun, and shoot the Communist attacking Pete (and miraculously the bullet doesn't go through the Communist and hit Pete). Slocum and Pete free William Chun and go to their airplanes to escape, just as some jeeps and a fuel truck drive up with armed US soldiers and the friend of Pete's dies in his arms on the runway. Cue sad violins.
OK, so stay with me here. Are we to believe that three Communists managed to lay waste to an entire airfield, take a prisoner, and hold off the US Army until two bush pilots show up? Hmmm.
One thing worth noting in this scene is some good stunt work on the part of the stunt pilot to taxi his plane within the camera shot, rotate on the starboard wheel, and hold without decapitating any of the "dead bodies" lying on the dirt runway around him. And kudos to the dead guys for having the discipline to lay perfectly still while getting blasted by prop wash, dirt, and stones while a metal blade spins within a few feet of their heads. Nice job guys. Some day the Oscars will actually give awards to stuntmen.
So Slocum and Pete are ordered back to their unit. While in transit, Pete starts thinking about his dead friend's letter, about how he had written that when flying its just him and the sun. So Pete starts climbing up, up towards the sun, dreaming about his dead friend, while Slocum is yelling at him over the radio to stay below the mountains. Sure enough, a squadron of Communist P-51 Mustangs (I think they're supposed to be Yak-9's, but they're P-51's with green paint and red stars) spots the little L5's and one of them dives down to attack. The Mustang makes a couple of high-speed passes, scores a few hits but nothing fatal. A stressed-aluminum Mustang is capable of going a lot faster than a little wood-and-cloth L5. Think "eagle vs pigeon". And a skilled pilot should've made short work of Pete's little bird. But somehow the L5 manages to go as fast as the Mustang, and during the low-level chase scene utility poles and moving traffic can be seen in the background - obviously this was filmed at some airport, probably in California or Nevada judging by the terrain. At any rate, Pete pulls a hard G turn which the Mustang can't match and the P-51 crashes into the side of the mountain. Way to go Pete! Slocum watches the whole thing and when they land he chastises Pete for disobeying orders and needlessly risking their units' only two flyable airplanes.
OK, now if I was an L5 pilot and I'd just gotten an enemy aircraft to crash, I'd call that a "kill" - verified by my wingman - and I'd have that big red star kill flag painted right underneath my windscreen. Does Pete? Nope. He just broods and walks away as Slocum goes to check in with the Command Post. But Pete's not done - he finds a bazooka lying around and has it mounted on his wing with a wire running from the trigger to his cockpit.
So Slocum and Pete are sent out on a recon mission, and they spot a group of camoflaged tanks. Slocum wants to radio it in for the artillery, but Pete decides to test his new bazooka. He dives in as Communist Hawaiians and Californians fire Browning .50cal MG's from atop Pershings at him. In probably the only realistic scene in the whole film, he misses wide left, gets his plane shot to pieces, and he crashes on the far side of the mountain. He manages to crawl out as Slocum circles overhead before returning to base.
Why didn't Slocum go down to rescue Pete? I guess the filmmakers wanted to create some tension between the characters, and abandoning your wingman would be a good way to do that. I know if I was Pete I'd be plenty steamed.
But Slocum isn't abandoning Pete completely. When he gets back to base he starts to tell the CO where Pete went down, but the CO stops him and tells him "Never mind about that now, I need you to deliver some medical supplies to a battalion cut off and surrounded over at these coordinates." OK, so what CO would abandon one of his only two skilled pilots? Hmmmm.
Anyway, you get the idea. If you're looking for cheap war fare, this isn't bad. But "Bridges At Toko-Ri" made 2 years later is much better. And it won two Oscars.