Dusty Crophopper is a crop duster plane who works at a cornfield in Propwash Junction 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 navy war plane named Skipper Riley to teach him how to fly well, but Skipper declines. Dusty qualifies for the race on a legal technicality (fifth place qualifier Fonzarelli was disqualified for illegal fuel intake).
Skipper decides to mentor Dusty, and discovers Dusty has a fear of heights. With training complete, Dusty travels to New York City to start the race.