Written by Joanna Lewis & Kristine Songco
Rainbow Dash is looking forward to spending a week with her friends, having earned some time off from the Wonderbolts. Spitfire, meanwhile, is looking forward to Trials Week, in which new potential Wonderbolts are judged on if they're good enough to get into the Academy. As Dash is flying towards Ponyville, her flank glows, the map in Twilight's castle summoning her. As Rainbow arrives, however, she's disappointed to find that it's called her and Twilight to Wonderbolt headquarters, since Rainbow was just there.
Once Twilight and Rainbow arrive, they find Spitfire training a few new recruits. Spitfire says that she hasn't seen any sort of friendship problem among the recruits, but she also hasn't been looking. Twilight and Rainbow offer to help the recruits with a lecture on the basics of flying theory in class, where they meet the brash, confident Sky Stinger and the shy, meek Vapor Trail. The two had been friends since childhood, and both dream of getting into the Academy together. In private, Sky Stinger admits he's nervous about the upcoming solo tests for Vapor Trail, since she's an inferior flyer to him. However, in practice, Twilight and Rainbow both notice that Vapor Trail is intentionally flying poorly to give Sky Stinger a boost with the wind from her wings. Twilight suggests that they tell the two of them that they're holding each other back, while Rainbow suggests keeping it quiet.
As Vapor Trail heads for the showers, Twilight and Rainbow confront her, where Vapor admits that she helped Sky Stinger become better, while also not thinking about her own career as a flyer that much. Twilight says that she'll coach Sky on the basics, while Rainbow will help Vapor with more advanced tricks. Through practice, it's clear that Sky is nowhere near as good as he claims to be, and while Vapor does improve with Rainbow, she still holds herself back. When meeting up after training, Sky boasts that he still doesn't think the practice is worth it, which makes Vapor blurt out that she's been helping him. Sky tries to prove her wrong, but can't perform a trick without her. Angry that she's been lying to him, he accuses Vapor of trying to steal his spotlight and flies away, a dejected Vapor wandering off.
In the rest of training, Sky Stinger has lost all confidence and motivation. Spitfire tells Rainbow and Twilight to help him get his confidence back, and the two of them get Sky and Vapor close again. They say that Vapor was never trying to steal Sky's spotlight, and that Vapor should not have been content to take a backseat to Sky. The two friends make up, and begin helping each other in practice, both improving on their own. At the solo trials, both Sky and Vapor perform well, allowing the two to pass the test, entering into the Wonderbolt Academy.
With the friendship problem solved, Rainbow and Twilight head back to Ponyville, with Rainbow finally able to relax. Just as she sets herself down, Misty Fly appears, saying that a Wonderbolt emergency has come up, and that she's needed at the Academy again, causing a frustrated Rainbow to collapse onto the floor.
- An Aesop: Helping a friend with a skill handicap is good and all for their self-esteem, but if the help is made in secret and it doesn't change from promoting confidence to giving them the skills needed to independently overcome their handicap, it becomes a shackle of over-dependency. It weighs them both down together with adverse side effects such as overconfidence, underperformance, and overexertion to pick up the other's slack, inviting a disaster in a moment where both friends have to stand on their own without the other to support them.
- Air-Aided Acrobatics: Used throughout the episode by Vapor Trail to boost Sky Stinger in the air.
- All a Part of the Job: Spitfire complains about having to run the recruit camp that weekend, until Rainbow points out that Spitfire loves blowing her whistle and yelling at ponies, after which she admits it herself.
- Asleep in Class: Theory classes being dull enough to sleep through is used as a running joke. Both Rainbow and Sky Stinger fall asleep at some point.
- Ass Kicks You: Rainbow bumps Vapor Trail towards Sky Stinger with her rump when they're trying to help them make up.
- Behind Every Great Man: Vapor Trail has been both a Living Emotional Crutch and, secretly, a physical crutch for Sky Stinger ever since they met.
- Book-Ends: As a sort of Brick Joke, the episode begins with Rainbow arriving at Twilight's castle for a friendship problem only to realize she has to go back to the Wonderbolt Headquarters for it. The episode ends with her and Twilight arriving at the castle after solving the problem only for Misty Fly to arrive and say Dash is needed at Headquarters once again for a Wonderbolt emergency. Both times Rainbow complains that she was literally just there.
- Both Sides Have a Point: Twilight's approach to solving the problem is to talk directly with Sky Stinger and Vapor Trail to clear misunderstandings so they know what they have to work on while Rainbow wants to play it subtle, without telling Sky, while both she and Twilight help the two flyers separately to correct their respective weaknesses. Twilight and Rainbow tell each other about each approach's flaws, with Twilight's potentially causing a breakup between Vapor and Sky plus affecting his confidence, while Rainbow's lacks the honest, direct communication necessary for the problem's solution; both are proven right in the end.
- Bowdlerise: Rainbow Dash's mentions of making cider with Applejack were cut from the UK airing, since "cider" refers to an alcoholic beverage there. Unlike the previous episode "Where the Apple Lies," though, these mentions are left intact in the Netflix and Season 6 DVD releases.
- Break the Haughty: Sky Stinger does not take it well when he learns that his "skills" were all thanks to Vapor Trail helping him along. He completely loses his confidence, unable to even try to fly out of the spinout induced by the Dizzitron.
- Break-Up/Make-Up Scenario: Between Vapor Trail and Sky Stinger after the former reveals to the latter she had been helping him, thinking she was setting him up to fall.
- The Cameo: Spike and Starlight Glimmer appear in the cold open but don't speak.
- Comically Missing the Point: Twilight explains to Sky Stinger about her own problems understanding friendships at first to compare it to his own difficulties with flying and tricks, pointing out that by working on it with the help of Rainbow and the others she ended up going so far as to become the Princess of Friendship. A confused Sky asks if she's trying to say that she wants him to become the "Princess of Flying."
- Continuity Nod:
- The episode retreads much of what Dash had to go through in "Wonderbolts Academy" as a new recruit, including the Dizzitron spin-out recovery exercise.
- Rainbow Dash leaves the Wonderbolts HQ in a bomber jacket that has her "Rainbow Crash" badge of honor. Spitfire also calls her by her "Crash" nickname at one point.
- Drill Sergeant Nasty: Spitfire again shows this as part of her role as instructor at the Wonderbolt Academy.Spitfire: Angel Wings! You call that cloud-busting? That cloud barely knew you were there! [aside to Rainbow Dash] I love my job.
- Freudian Excuse: Both Sky Stinger and Vapor Trail have one, for different reasons. Sky Stinger was from a big family where he was constantly struggling for attention, whereas Vapor Trail was an only child whose parents would never leave her alone, leading to their respectively showboating and retiring personalities in the episode.
- The Glomp: Vapor Trail: she gives Sky Stinger a big hug when they reconcile, and another when they both get into the academy (this one strong enough to knock him off his hooves).
- Good News, Bad News: When Rainbow Dash arrives at the Castle to see what mission the Cutie Map has in store for her...Twilight Sparkle: Well, the good new is, we both got called by the Map!
Rainbow Dash: Awesome! [beat] Does that means there's bad news?
Twilight Sparkle: No. Well, not exactly...
[zoom on the Map, with the cutie marks floating around Wonderbolt Headquarters]
Rainbow Dash: [groans] I was just there!
- Gosh Dang It to Heck!: When Vapor Trail accidentally confesses to Twilight and Rainbow that she's been helping Sky with his flight, she quietly exclaims "Ah, sugarcubes!"
- Hand Gagging: When Twilight tries to tell Sky Stinger that Vapor Trail isn't the one who needs help, Rainbow covers her mouth with a hoof and drags her away. She does it again when they confront Vapor Trail, but this time Twilight doesn't let it pass and moves Rainbow away with telekinesis.
- Here We Go Again!: At the end, just as Rainbow Dash and Twilight arrive back at Twilight's castle, Misty Fly shows up and tells Rainbow that she's needed back at Wonderbolts HQ, meaning Rainbow has to immediately return to the Academy for a second time.
- Honesty Is the Best Policy: Twilight suggests to Vapor Trail that she should tell the truth to Sky Stinger that she was behind his good flying performance the whole time.
- Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Sky Stinger. While he is very arrogant and self-absorbed, he cares deeply for Vapor Trail, even urging Twilight and Rainbow to help her with her flying. Also, since he had no idea she had been helping him for years, that couldn't be the reason why "I never fly without her".
- Massive Numbered Siblings: Sky Stinger grew up with four sisters, and always felt he had trouble standing out.
- Meaningful Name: The combination of Sky Stinger and Vapor Trail. Stingers are types of missiles, and thus when launched, leave behind contrails of spent fuel. This is similar to how Vapor Trail "followed" Sky Stinger around, as to help provide his propulsion.
- My Beloved Smother: Vapor Trail's flashback shows that both her parents were this, wanting to spend every moment of every day with her.
- Mythology Gag: Angel Wings asks if Rainbow Dash was the pony who flew so hard her wings fell off. There was an issue of Friends Forever which centered around Rainbow losing her wings (although there, they were stolen).
- Nice Job Breaking It, Hero!: As is common for map episodes, Twilight and Rainbow end up making things worse before they make it better by inadvertently breaking Sky and Vapor's friendship.Vapor Trail: [to Twilight and Rainbow] Thanks a lot.
- The Nicknamer: Rainbow Dash tells the newbies that they can call Twilight "T-Sparks", and herself "The Dashinator". Twilight coughs and Rainbow says "never mind".
- Noodle Incident: According to Spitfire, an incident where somepony flew so hard their wings fell off has only happened once, but it's unknown if this is true or she's just making it up. However, it's possible she's referring to Rarity's magical wings.
- Oh, Crap!: Vapor Trail's reaction when Rainbow announces that the Wonderbolt cadets will have to go through solo trials, since shes not very confident in her ability to fly well on her own and since she knows that Sky Stinger will do badly without her helping him.
- Only Child Syndrome: The pegasus Vapor Trail was an only child whose parents piled attention on her, barely giving her a second to herself. Because of this, Vapor Trail developed an aversion to being in the spotlight, and was content with acting as the "wing pony" to her best friend Sky Stinger.
- Opinion Flip-Flop: When Twilight and Rainbow arrive at the Academy, Angel Wings excitedly tells them they're her "favorite ponies in all of Equestria." But after Sky and Vapor get into the Academy, she tells them the exact same thing (to Rainbow's annoyance).
- Outnumbered Sibling: From a look at the flashback, Sky Stinger was the only colt among his siblings, and he has at least four sisters.
- Platonic Life-Partners: There's no direct language in the episode to indicate that Vapor Trail and Sky Stinger have any type of romantic interest (the closest being Sky calling Vapor his wingpony), but the undertones (particularly from Vapor) suggest more than just simply being friends since they were young.
- Poor Communication Kills: The conflict is extended by a lack of communication between the two recruits, even if the concerns about just talking it out are somewhat legitimate.
- Pop-Culture Pun Episode Title: To the 1986 Tom Cruise film Top Gun.
- Prompting Nudge: Twilight elbows Rainbow Dash while they are confronting Vapor Trail about her helping Sky Stinger, urging the pegasus to be the one explaining the situation.
- Properly Paranoid: Initially, both Rainbow and Vapor, fearing a worst-case scenario, keep refusing to tell Sky the truth about his Miles Gloriosus status. Eventually, though, Vapor decides to tell him... and it does indeed end badly — temporarily, at least.
- Red Oni, Blue Oni: Sky Stinger is the outgoing but inferior flyer (Red Oni) and Vapor Trail is the reclusive but superior flyer (Blue Oni).
- Rewatch Bonus: Vapor Trail's Oh, Crap! reaction when told there are gonna be solo trials at the end of the week could be read as performance anxiety; but once you know how much she's been assisting Sky Stinger with his flying, it's clear she's more worried about him performing on his own.
- Sleep Mask: Sky Stinger uses a sleep mask with open eyes painted on it to sleep in class without being caught. Twilight isn't fooled.
- Snowball Lie: Vapor Trail has been secretly helping Sky Stinger with his flying which has done much for his self-esteem but done little for his ability over the years. It started small but grew over time until she was doing everything for him and wearing herself out in the process.
- Split Screen: The final tryout, with Sky Stinger and Vapor Trail doing mirror maneuvers, has a split in the middle of the screen to show them both flying simultaneously — until they land on the tarmac, at which point the split fades and they're reunited.
- Stealth Pun:
- During Vapor Trail's flashback to her youth, we see her parents flittering about their front yard trying to engage Vapor in some activity, thus acting as "helicopter parents". Their cutie marks are rotors, also pointing to the pun.
- Though Sky Stinger doesn't realize it, Vapor Trail has (literally and figuratively) been the "wind beneath his wings" ever since they met.
- Training Montage: Used twice; once when Sky and Vapor have to work with Twilight and Rainbow, and again where they cheer each other on.
- Uptown Girl: There are hints of romance in the flashback showing the childhoods of Sky Stinger and Vapor Trail. Although both are pegasi, Sky's family lives on the ground, has many children and they have an overall lower-class appearance to them. In contrast, Vapor Trail is an only child, her family lives in a nice-looking cloud cottage and her parents have upper-class accents. The childhood romance part is downplayed but still present too.
- Vocal Dissonance: In a flashback, even as foals, Sky Stinger and Vapor Trail have their present-day grown-up voices. It's justified for the audience to recognize them.
- Wham Line: Vapor Trail makes a not-so-subtle revelation to Sky Stinger when his overconfidence prevents him from listening to reason and truth.Vapor Trail: SKY, YOU'RE NOT AS GOOD AS YOU THINK YOU ARE!!
- Wind from Beneath My Wings: Vapor Trail has been doing this to help Sky Stinger for years, without him noticing. Having both of them break away from her help is the friendship problem Twilight and Rainbow have to solve.
- You Have GOT to Be Kidding Me!: Rainbow Dash's reaction when Misty Fly comes to call her back to Wonderbolt HQ, just as she left there for the second time in the episode.