The story begins in Ponce, Puerto Rico, on Friday, March 7, 1947. Charlesville, a financier representing Frances colonial interests in Indo-China, has backed the construction of a large, high capacity helicopter intended for sale to the U.S. Army. He is now on his way to Ponce to close the deal. The aircrafts builder, Harry Baird, is a retired Army aeronautical engineer who relocated from Dayton's Wright Field to Ponce at the end of the war, and took with him several other Wright Field engineers. Since the aircraft these men built is the collateral on Charlesville's loan, the threat Charlesville holds over Harry is to terminate the project and remove the aircraft to France; something Harry will never let happen.
In the wake of a mishap during air trials, the sales contract Harry has pursued in Charlesville's behalf fails to materialize. Rather than tell Charlesville, however, Harry decides on a ruse to conceal the failure, and devises a plan to fly the ship from Puerto Rico to Wright Field, a record-setting distance of two thousand miles. His purpose is to use the publicity attending the flight to force the Armys hand in offering him the contract.
To help garner publicity, Harry enlists the support of Patty Symms, a twenty-four-year-old photographer who made a name for herself through her work in England during the war. But in Ponce, Patty becomes involved in a story she only set out to report. She falls in love with Harrys pilot, Don Perry.
Don is a forty-one-year-old Wright Field veteran who harbors the dream of becoming the Negro Lindbergh. Already he has become Americas first African American test pilot, and already suffered the abuse of the Armys racial prejudice. Recognizing this prejudice, and seeing its effects on Don, Patty realizes that Don, more than Harry or Harrys ruse, is the true focus of her story. But her burgeoning love for Don is poignant, premised in part on the excitement of taboo, for she is white.
Unable to resist caving in, Don, too, falls in love. Patty has brought out of him qualities long held in abeyance. She has humanized the man, and he has emboldened her. In their affair, each recognizes that, while the worlds stage may be set for the appearance of a black hero (Jackie Robinson arrived at the majors exactly at this time), the world is far from ready to accept them as an item.
But the flight to Wright Field drives the story. By the time the flight occurs, we have seen the death of Harry Baird. We have seen the jealousy his authority and obsessive ambition invoked. The relationships between Harry and his men involve hostility, quitting, blaming, economic exploitation of minorities, and the certain theme that dreams have a price often measured in pain. And by the time the aircraft arrives at Wright Field, the men have faced the challenge that freedom entails.
The flight to Wright Field raises the novel to its climax, recording the movement of the story from common resentment, through a transforming ordeal, to a common bond of compassion and love. In the sense that something happens to us all on the way, HARRY'S ARK could be likened to a pilgrimage, or an odyssey, or a homecoming, or a voyage, like Noah's, for which it is named, for it celebrates the second chance that deliverance implies. To Patty and Don, there occurs by the end of their journey a bond uniquely theirs, that we have been privileged to share, and we, too, come away with the same second chance, to keep faith with how we got to where we are.