Captain John "Otter" Stratton is a young American fighter pilot who flies the F-15 Eagle, arguably the most potent and successful fighter plane ever built. At Red Flag, the international training exercise for the air forces of allied countries, hundreds of pilots meet for the most challenging flying of their careers. Red Flag is the final tune-up training for pilots and their crews before being sent into actual combat. The object is to make the exercises as real and challenging as possible--to take the pilots, ground crews, mechanics, rescue personnel, etc., to the limits of what they can handle. As Stratton makes his way through this extraordinary event held in the desert of Nevada, he is amazed at how complex, confusing and dangerous the exercises are. He also begins to notice team members who were absent from his childhood vision of heroism. There are people who work all night rebuilding engines and re-installing them into his aircraft so he can keep flying and training. There are people who rise at four-thirty each morning to scour the runways for tiny pebbles that can get sucked into engines and kill pilots. There are people who practice rushing into a flaming mockup of a crashed aircraft so if there is a real accident they will be ready to save the pilot. In the flying exercises, John realizes there are other pilots who aren't just out to prove themselves--they are helping him--watching his back, taking personal risks to cover his mistakes. And he is doing the same for them. He begins to think that being a hero is not quite as simple as he once believed.