Set during World War I, The Dawn Patrol is a study of the pressures and pitfalls of authority. A British Royal Flying Corp squadron commander (Neil Hamilton) is compelled by the higher-ups to send his boys out in dangerous, rickety aircraft. He is tormented by the responsibility, but does his duty as prescribed, and is branded a "butcher" by his top pilot (Richard Barthelmess). Hamilton is transferred, and with grim glee hands his command over to Barthelmess. Suddenly Barthelmess finds himself as much an unwilling "butcher" as a predecessor, and in exercising his authority he is alienated from his pilot buddies. Things come to a head when Barthelmess sends the brother of his best friend (Douglas Fairbanks Jr.) on a suicide mission. The lad is killed, and the friendship is shattered. To make amends, Barthelmess gets Fairbanks drunk and flies the next mission himself--and is shot down while in battle with the fearsome German ace Von Richter. Now more understanding of his fallen companion, Fairbanks takes over command of the squadron. Because of the 1938 remake of the same title, the 1930 Dawn Patrol has been retitled Flight Commander for television.