Dusty Crophopper is a crop duster plane who works at a cornfield and practices aerobatic maneuvers in his spare time, dreaming of becoming a racer. His dreams are scorned by his boss, Leadbottom, and his forklift/mechanic friend, Dottie. However, he is supported by his fuel truck friend, Chug. Dusty and Chug train for qualifiers for the upcoming Wings Across the Globe race. On the night before the qualifiers, Dusty asks an elderly and reclusive navy war plane named Skipper Riley to teach him how to fly well, but Skipper refuses. Dusty enters the qualifiers, and although the audience mocks him for being a cropduster, he manages to wow them by his well-practiced flight maneuvers; but he barely makes it into the race.
Later in the morning, Skipper visits Dusty and tries to talk him out of racing, but when Dusty explains he wants to prove he’s more than just a crop duster, Skipper decides to mentor Dusty on his speed and agility. While in the midst of his training, Dusty admits that he has a fear of heights. Despite this, their training continues, and when it is complete, Dusty heads off to the meeting of the race at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City. There he befriends an eccentric but loyal Mexican race plane named El Chupacabra, who eventually falls in love with a beautiful French-Canadian racer named Rochelle, who shows no interest in him. Dusty then makes a rival of the arrogant and villainous 3-time-winner plane Ripslinger, who rudely dismisses him as being only a crop duster. He also falls in love with a racer plane named Ishani, who becomes supportive of him. During the first leg of the race from New York to Iceland, Dusty’s refusal to fly high causes him to finish in last place.