In the early 1980s, a war is raging in Arslan, a fictional Middle Eastern kingdom. Mercenary fighter pilots from all over the world are hired or shanghaied to fight. They live in a secret desert airbase called Area 88.
Photographer Makoto Shinjou arrives at Area 88, an airbase for mercenary flyer's in the Kingdom of Aslan which is fighting a war against anti-government forces.
Kitri Parvaneh, cousin to Saki Vashtar, makes her first appearance just in time to save the lives of some of the Area 88 pilots, Kim in particular.
A lone sniper brings operations at Area 88 to a halt with a few well-placed shots. A plan is conceived to get Shin up in the air using a decoy (Saki) to buy him time.
Shin's new fighter arrives and he sets out on a training flight to break it in, just as Kanzaki is piloting a commercial flight nearby under the watchful eye of Captain Shibukawa, who is evaluating him.
Kitri expresses doubts about Kim's abilities as a pilot, and Kim's Harrier is in bad need of parts and repairs, but when an enemy bomber squadron draws near, the shortage requires her, Shin, and Kim to fly out alone to defend the base.
The Area pilots are ordered to attack a well-guarded base that defends a rebel oil refinery the government wants to capture.
Area forces are sustaining heavy losses due to a rebel pilot with a lizard mark on the nose of his plane. This pilot turns out to be Patrick Reed, who flew under Mickey's command in Vietnam.
Shin and Kim shoot down an enemy transport plane, and McCoy tells all the men on base there was gold on board, so the pilots go out in a feeding frenzy to find the downed plane.
Shin shoots the final plane he needs to buy his freedom, but then crashes on landing. Kanzaki fires Shinjou, because Kanzaki and Ryoko have become engaged.
Shin engages a large number of enemies all alone and his Crusader is destroyed. He manages to eject just in time to run into a sandstorm.
Pilot Boris is called the Angel of Death because he always loses his companions on missions and returns alone, and therefore nobody wants to fly with him.
Because of expenses related to his crash, Shin can't buy his freedom. Shinjou is expelled from the Area. Shin finds out Kanzaki and Ryoko are getting married, so he buys a new plane and attempts to desert.