August 1914: as war breaks out across Europe, German student Franz Becker rushes to enlist. He is nineteen and the war appears to offer adventure and the chance to escape from his dull, safe life. Most of the young volunteers are filled with enthusiasm but Franz’s closest friend, Karl von Leussow, is appalled by the conflict.
Karl’s family has provided the Prussian Army with officers for generations and he knows that war is brutal and bloody. But Karl too enlists, believing he must defend his country even at the cost of his own life.
After a few weeks’ training, the new recruits are sent to the Western Front and into intense fighting. Over the months that follow, the survivors become soldiers. Franz starts to rise up the ranks and is pressured to become an officer.
He is reluctant to take the “express ticket to eternity” but is becoming fascinated by the aircraft that appear more and more often over the trenches. What would it be like to fly and see the war from above?