The Soviets have developed a revolutionary new jet fighter, called "Firefox". Naturally, the British are worried that the jet will be used as a first-strike weapon, as rumours say that the jet is indetectable on radar. They send ex-Vietnam War pilot Mitchell Gant on a covert mission into the Soviet Union to steal Firefox.
The Soviets have developed the MiG-31 - a fighter that flies at 6 times the speed of sound, is invulnerable to radar, and worst of all - has a lethally sophisticated weapons system that the pilot can control through thought impulses. As soon as the pilot detects a threat - either visually or on a scope - his thought impulses will direct a missile to that threat, without so much as pushing a button. Mass production of the MiG-31 will give the Russians a huge advantage. Vietnam veteran Mitchell Gant, a former USAF ace pilot, is smuggled into the USSR to infiltrate the Russian airbase at Bilyarsk, where the Firefox/MiG-31 is being finished, and STEAL THE FIREFOX! Gant manages to overpower Col. Voskov - the Russian test pilot - and steal the aircraft, just as the USSR's First Secretary arrives at the base. Now Gant will run the gauntlet of Russian defenses - land-based missiles, naval warships, and helicopters - and reach a refueling point from a US Navy submarine. But the Russians still have a trump card - a prototype MiG-31 - and they send it up in pursuit of Gant after he completes refueling! What follows is a harrowing, cat-and-mouse chase across the ice floes of the Arctic. Who will survive?
The Firefox is a high tech fighter plane built by the Soviet Union. It's faster than any other fighter plane, and is undetectable to radar, and has a new weapon control system that is thought controlled. When the West learns of it, they decide that it's necessary to get it before it could be mass produced. They need a pilot, and the best and probably only man for the job is Mitchell Gant, a former Air Force pilot, who is now retired. They convince him to do it, even though the chance of his success, is very slim. He begins by pretending to be a man, whom the Soviet police is investigating, when he goes to meet his contacts which includes the man he is impersonating, he is killed. The sight of his death brings about one of Gant's delayed stress attacks, but he gets away. With help from the underground, he is brought to where the plane is. Though he manages to get it, the Soviets mount an offensive to find him, which includes another version of the Firefox, which might catch up with him.
Mitchell Gant, once one of America's finest fighter pilots, is recruited by NATO, despite continuing bouts with battle shock (incurred in a harrowing mission in which he was captured by the Vietcong but rescued by US Air Force choppers), for a suicide mission - Soviet Russia has developed the ultimate fighter-bomber, the Firefox. A stealth warplane capable of sustained Mach Six speeds and possessing revolutionary thought-guided weaponry, the Firefox can tip the balance of international power, and the prototype's seat is form-fitted for just one pilot, Colonel Yuri Voskov - to whom Mitchell Gant is the only Western pilot with the identical physical build necessary for the special pressure suit worn. NATO contacts among Soviet dissidents smuggle Gant through Russia to the Red Air Force's testing facility in southern Ukraine, where he must steal the Firefox - and escape the wrath of the world's most powerful air-defense grid, and of a second Firefox prototype.
A pilot is sent into the Soviet Union on a mission to steal a prototype jet fighter that can be partially controlled by a neuralink
- A Huey helicopter flies over the Alaskan wilderness, its pilots looking for someone below. That someone, Major Mitchell Gant USAF (Rtd) (Clint Eastwood), hears the helicopter approaching and instantly breaks into a dead run back toward his cabin, where he takes a shotgun off its rack and cocks it. As the helicopter lands, Gant lapses into a post-tramautic memory of a nightmare that he lived through in Vietnam: shot down over the North in his A-4, he was being taken to a prison camp when two Hueys machine-gunned his captors. Gant suffered personal trauma when an overflying A-4 dropped an incendiary on the site, killing a little girl who stood around too long, watching the battle. Back in the present, Captain Arthur Buckholz (David Huffman) pulls Gant out of his episode and apologizes for the unannounced visit.
The next several scenes are back-and-forth cuts between the conversation between Gant and Buckholz, and a briefing being run by Kenneth Aubrey (Freddie Jones) of the British SIS concerning the Soviet Union's latest fighter/interceptor: the Mikoyan-Gurevich "MiG" Model 31, given the codename "Firefox" by NATO. Its capabilities seem otherworldly: total stealth, twin engines each delivering 50,000 pounds of thrust, combat ceiling 100,000-feet-plus, speed in excess of Mach 5 or even Mach 6 (and able to maintain it, no small feat), and a weapons and defense system able to read the pilot's thoughts and allow him to aim and fire his weapons without even having to press a button, thus affording him a 3- to 5-second reaction-time advantage over any opponent. NATO's descision is to send Gant in to steal a Firefox prototype right off the Soviet development base at Bilyarsk, hundreds of miles east of Moscow, near the Ural Mountains.
Gant resents the operation because he is being quite simply blackmailed; he has been allowed to live on government land which now will be sold out from under him if he does not agree to the mission. The NATO Air Force attache (Thomas Hill) resents it as well because Gant has no experience as a spy and, worse yet, is subject to post-traumatic stress disorder and may crack at any time. They use Gant for two reasons only: he speaks fluent Russian and happens to be a perfect fit for the pressure suit worn by the MiG-31's prime test pilot, Lt. Col. Yuriy Voskov (Kai Wulff).
Gant goes through several weeks of retraining, both in flying and in aerial combat, and briefings on his first required impersonation--as a corrupt businessman named Leon Sprague, known to be smuggling heroin into the Soviet Union. After his training is over he is sent to London where Aubrey gives him his final briefing on his objectives and he's disguised with a new haircut and a false mustache. Gant is also familiarized with the underground network group, who are mostly Russian Jews. Aubrey also hands him a one-way homing device disguised as a cheap transistor radio. What his handlers don't tell him, though, is that if anything compromises the mission, Gant will be left on his own.
Gant lands at Sheremetyevo Airport in Moscow, blusters his way through an unannounced customs search, and manages to leave the airport--with the "radio." He takes a taxi to his rooms at the Hotel Moscow, puts the radio into his pocket, and waits. Outside he sees three Soviet soldiers goose-stepping in formation while patrolling.
In the meantime, at KGB Moscow Center on Dzherzhinskiy Square, Colonel Kontarsky (Kenneth Colley) of the KGB finalizes his plans to safeguard the MiG-31 prior to its trials the next day which will be conducted for the Soviet First Secretary. He also orders his second-in-command, Dmitri Priabin (Oliver Cotton), to arrest some underground members at dawn, but not to move before then. Kontarsky in fact knows all about the spy network funneling information from Bilyarsk out of Russia--but even he does not know what the CIA and the SIS really have planned and as such, he does not want to totally disrupt the network, causing them to go further into hiding.
That night Gant walks out to the Krasnokholmskiy Bridge, under instructions to be there at precisely 10:30 with the KGB shadowing him -- he is ordered not to lose the KGB tail. There he meets the real Leon Sprague (George Orrison), plus his Moscow network escort, Pavel Upenskoy (Warren Clarke), and two of his confederates. Upenskoy orders Sprague to take Gant's cigar away from him and start smoking it--and then, before Gant's horrified eyes, whips out a pipe and clubs Sprague to death, mutilating the man's face. He then demands that Gant surrender his false papers, which he plants on Sprague before throwing him into the Moscow River. The four men then race to the Paveletskaya Metro station, where Upenskoy hurriedly briefs Gant on his next impersonation: as Michael Lewis, American tourist registered at the Hotel Warsaw. The four then board a subway, though Gant nearly misses it, because his bad dream of the burning girl returns at just that moment.
The four ride the train to another station, but when they arrive the KGB is all over it. A KGB plainclothesman challenges Gant for identification, and Gant barely manages to convince him that he is who he says he is, and has to feign illness on account of the "rich food" at the Warsaw Hotel. Upenskoy, dissatisfied with Gant's performance, sends the flustered Gant into a nearby men's room to "get yourself together." But another KGB plainclothesman (Eugene Lipinski) follows Gant into the restroom, challenges him again, and then says that his papers are not in order. The plainclothesman reaches into his coat. Gant, thinking the man is going to draw a gun, grabs his arm and finds the man was only holding a wallet. Gant fights with the agent and kills him.
Upenskoy, rushing in at the last minute, is horrified. When the dead agent is discovered, the entire station will be locked down. He tells Gant to move quickly to the exit and angrily assures Gant this papers are, indeed, in order. Gant manages to leave the station, but only by cutting in line and acting like a clueless American. He, Upenskoy, and Upenskoy's colleagues barely manage to get to street level before whistles blow below, indicating that the KGB have found their dead detective and have sealed off the station.
Upenskoy takes Gant to a warehouse belonging to a light-delivery service, where Upenskoy gives Gant yet another identity: that of Boris Glazunov, resident of the Mira Prospekt and employed as "driver's mate" to Upenskoy. The next morning, a telephone rings--just once--and Upenskoy tells Gant that they must leave at once because "KGB assigned to the plane" are coming for Upenskoy. Upenskoy gives Gant a pistol with orders not to use it unless absolutely necessary.
Kontarsky, meanwhile, has word that Priabin has already picked up the real Boris Glazunov (Barrie Houghton) at his apartment. Therefore, the man in the van with Upenskoy is an imposter. Curious, Kontarsky orders a KGB tail team not to arrest Upenskoy but to tail him at a distance.
Upenskoy and Gant manage to get through a checkpoint, where they know that they must "pose" for a photograph that will be sent to Moscow Center. Afterward, Upenskoy tells Gant that Boris Glazunov was picked up, and that Gant needs to realize that he is now a man of mystery. Upenskoy has decided to assume that the KGB will merely wait to see what develops as they try to identify Gant, who to them is simply someone who pretended to be a Russian driver's mate for some reason still unknown to them.
In the meantime, Sprague's former business associate identifies the body of Sprague but notes that he was badly beaten, almost as though his assailant wanted to obscure his identity, a thing that Police Inspector Aleksei Tortyev (Hugh Fraser) is very curious about indeed. Kontarsky is also curious, and demands to know who the mystery man is with Upenskoy, and why an old man (Czeslaw Grocholski) arrested at the warehouse took a poison and the others are "holding out." Kontarsky still refuses simply to arrest Upenskoy, because he wants every member of the spy network, no matter what--this although his officers now suspect that the mystery man is a foreign agent. Priabin is also present, and voices his suspicion that Boris Glazunov, now their prisoner, is totally ignorant of the identity of his substitute and perhaps even of the substitution.
Upenskoy reaches Gant's next rendezvous point and orders Gant to jump from the van while it is in motion as soon as they round a curve. Gant thus succeeds jumping out undetected while Upenskoy leads the tail car away. Gant jogs down an incline and meets his next contact: Dr. Semelovsky (Ronald Lacey), a grumpy project scientist assigned to the MiG-31 program. Semelovsky hides Gant in his trunk and prepares to drive in to the base at Bilyarsk.
At Moscow Center, Boris Glazunov, refusing to the end to talk (or perhaps, as Priabin suspects, not knowing what to say or even what the KGB wants), dies under torture. Kontarsky, monumentally chagrined, now orders Upenskoy's van stopped.
Oblivious to the new developments, Semelovsky gets Gant inside the Bilyarsk compound (excusing his tardiness by pretending to have a dirty engine) and drives him to the scientists' quarters, where Gant now meets Dr. Pyotr Baranovich (Nigel Hawthorne) and his significant other, Natalya (Dimitra Arliss), who offer him his first meal of the day. Meanwhile, Upenskoy gets into a gunfight with the KGB tail team and manages to kill them--but not before they wound him. He crashes his van, abandons it, and sets out on foot, knowing that his life is forfeit.
Baranovich outfits Gant as a Soviet Air Police officer and briefs him on how to bluff his way through a security gate, and on the location of the hangar and its facilities. He also tells Gant that he knows that he will die after Gant escapes with the plane--but any resentment he might feel toward the British SIS for ordering him to sacrifice himself, pales before his resentment of the KGB for making that sacrifice necessary, and for denying him his freedom.
At Moscow Center, Aleksei Tortyev asks Priabin to do him a favor: to ask for an identification of the man who landed at Sheremetyevo Airport posing as the dead Sprague. Tortyev thinks that this man is a foreign agent who substituted himself for Sprague. The technicians then surprise Tortyev and Priabin by saying that the man at Sheremetyevo is the same as the man who posed as Boris Glazunov and got out of Moscow on the way to Bilyarsk.
Natalya brings word that the guards at the gate have been reinforced--and almost has a heart attack to see Gant outfitted as a Soviet Air Policeman. Baranovich reveals more dire information: that the program has not merely one prototype, but two. The second jet has an advantage over the 1st; it can refuel in the air, whereas Gant must rendezvous with an American submarine on an ice floe off Russia's Arctic coast. Baranovich also explains that he and his small dissident crew intend to sacrifice themselves by destroying the second prototype in the hangar. Gant must, therefore, get the first prototype out of the hangar as soon as he hears the fire alarm. Baranovich also briefs Gant on the coordinates he must feed into the navigation computer, and the Firefox' weapons (four air-to-air missiles, two 50-millimeter cannons, and two flak layers, called "rearward defense pods" or "drone tail units") and thought-activated control systems--but also says that in order to work it, he must "think in Russian" and not try to think in English and translate.
Dmitri and Tortyev continue to discuss their lead. Tortyev then suggests that Dmitri search not for a seasoned spy, but for "a young fit man with brains"--i.e., an astronaut or a pilot. Dmitri agrees and commences a systematic search of their thousands of files on astronauts, Air Force pilots, etc.
Gant manages to get inside the security gate and, using his falsified rank, takes it on himself to order an extra K-9 patrol to search the forest bordering the fence. He then walks through the hangar and sees the Firefox for the first time. A colonel (actually Kontarsky, though neither man knows the other) accosts him, and Gant apprises him of his orders to the K-9 unit to search the forest. Gant then moves to the pilot's dressing room, and waits there for Voskov, whom he knocks senseless, binds, gags, and stuffs into a locker, having decided not to kill him because "Oh, hell, you didn't do anything." Gant then goes into the showers and waits, at one point demanding that he not be disturbed when other security personnel challenge him for identification. Gant, now impersonating Voskov, manages to keep them from seeing him face-to-face. (Kontarsky has in fact realized that his mystery man has penetrated the installation and ordered a search.) While he waits, he suffers another attack of his PTSD and sits helpless on the floor of the shower.
Back at Moscow Center, Priabin has now identified Gant from the pilot archive. He and Kontarsky speculate as to Gant's real plans: is he merely trying to inspect the plane up close? The two come to a terrifying realization that Gant means to steal the plane. Kontarsky immediately orders the arrest of Baranovich and the others--but just then the fire alarm rings; Baranovich and Semelovsky have started the fire that they hope will destroy the second prototype. The fire is put out before it can do any such damage. Semelovsky is shot down at once, and Baranovich manages to get off one round with a pistol before he and Natalya are also gunned down. The sound of the alarms in the hangar awaken Gant from his shock. The last thing that Baranovich sees before he dies is a black pressure-suited figure making its way to the first prototype.
Gant, like a man knowing what he is doing, walks over to the waiting plane, climbs aboard, hooks up, and starts going through a very accelerated pre-flight checklist. An officer challenges him for identification, and Gant first waves him off, but when the officer climbs to the cockpit Gant pushes him off the small ladder. Gant hurriedly completes his checklist--but when he raises his visor, Kontarsky recognizes him at once and orders the hangar doors shut. They are too late--Gant starts the engines and taxis out of the hangar at high speed. As the First Secretary's car arrives, Gant taxis to the end of the runway, and then takes off just as the First Secretary arrives. A few miles away, Upenskoy watches Gant fly overhead and then, with the K-9 patrols ready to apprehend him, shoots himself.
Gant first makes a deliberate close pass at an Aeroflot Ilyushin-model airliner, a deliberate strategy to confirm his heading traveling south, possibly to Turkey. He then begins a cockpit monologue--which turns into a dialogue with the First Secretary (Stefan Schnabel), who tries to persuade Gant to turn back and surrender, which Gant will not do. Gant finishes his conversation and then turns eastward, toward the Ural chain. The Soviet chiefs of staff, meanwhile, scramble all their air assets on the northern and southern borders and alert the Red Banner Fleets Northern and Southern. And in a NATO war room, Aubrey and Buckholz realize, with great joy, that Gant has achieved liftoff.
Gant reaches the Urals, and then makes his first mistake: impelled by insatiable curiosity, he test-flies the Firefox at supersonic speeds, seeking to test the power of the plane and its Terrain-Following Radar system. The Soviets realize that he has misled them, as the Air Force chief-of-staff, General Vladimirov (Klaus Löwitsch), has already realized. Vladimirov reasons that Gant was simply too good to blunder into an Aeroflot's flight path by accident. Vladimirov now orders an elaborate plan to trap Gant at the northern end of the Urals, over the Gulf of Kara, where he believes that Gant may have a fueling rendezvous waiting for him on a sheet of ice. The Soviets think they have succeeded when they detect explosions over the Gulf (and so do Aubrey and Buckholz), but in fact Gant has devised a new strategy to elude them. He has downed another of their planes, a "Badger" recon plane, using the thought-controlled arsenal for the first time, and to good effect. This makes the Badger hotter than the Firefox and thus decoys the heat-seeking missiles the Soviets have fired after him.
Vladimirov is not so sure that they could defeat Gant as easily as that. Sure enough, Gant wastes his advantage by overflying an ELINT trawler. The First Secretary excoriates Vladimirov, but can do little else; he cannot fire him on short notice. Vladimirov now sets up an ambush with a Soviet guided-missile cruiser. But Gant defeats that ambush, too. First he flies straight toward the cruiser, at low altitude and supersonic speed. He destroys one MiL-24 Hind helicopter gunship, and flies directly over the ship. The sonic boom slams a second Hind to the flight deck, demolishing it. Four missiles fire after him in a tail chase. Gant knocks out two of them with one of his Rear Defense flak layers, and simply outraces the other two a supersonic speed until they run out of fuel and fall into the sea.
Back in Bilyarsk Voskov has been found and has recovered, taking a final briefing from the First Secretary before taking off after Gant. Word comes that Gant has defeated the Russians yet again, and now Vladimirov plans to intercept Gant just short of the polar ice pack.
Gant now has another problem: he is running out of fuel, though he at least knows where his refueling point will be, since the homing device activated before he engaged the cruiser. Gant gains altitude and proceeds to glide in--and barely makes it to an ice floe before a US Navy Ohio-class submarine breaks through it to serve as Gant's refueling stop. He lands on the floe and taxis to the submarine, whose crew proceed to refuel him and replace the two missiles he has used.
Two Hinds make radar contact with the Americans and fly in to investigate. The Americans hurriedly finish the refueling and rearmament, steam a runway, and see Gant off before they then set up a mock weather station for the Soviets to reconnoiter. But what they don't know is that Vladimirov, loudly insistent, has prevailed upon his colleagues to send the second MiG after the radar contact.
After Gant takes off, he thinks he's home free when he suddenly sees two missiles locked onto him that appear to have come out of nowhere--and then spots the second Firefox in his rear-ward facing camera. He out maneuvers the missiles and Voskov pursues Gant in a hypersonic aerial chase. Gant uses his air brakes to slip behind the other aircraft and he releases two missiles that immediately miss, and after a rolling loop Voskov and Gant's positions are reversed again. Gant dives toward the ground and skims low over the Arctic, but Voskov stays hard in pursuit, firing his MiG-31's nose-mounted cannons, to no effect. Gant now tries to shake Voskov by flying a slalom race through narrow ice canyons - yet Voskov still stays locked in close pursuit. After clearing and regaining altitude Voskov's Firefox fires his last two missiles, and Gant pulls into a high loop. As he comes out of the loop he goes into a flat tailspin and begins to suffer another delayed stress seizure, but he snaps out of it and releases his landing gear, adding drag enough to barely pull out of the flat spin before he crashes into the Earth.
Voskov, out of respect, salutes Gant one last time before dropping in behind Gant, preparing to make the kill. Gant recovers in time to reengage full speed as Voskov futilely fires his 50mm cannon. Gant attempts to fire the Rear Defense Pod but forgets to think in Russian. When he finally realizes it, he issues the command again in Russian and Voskov's aircraft is hit by the missile, exploding in flame.
Finally safe, Gant sets a course for the nearest NATO base in Western Europe.