Point of No Return

Point of No Return documents the 2016 global circumnavigation flight of the Solar Impulse, a solar-powered zero-fuel electric plane. The two standout elements of the film are the amazing technology of the plane itself: a delicate gossamer device made of solar panels, plastic skin, polymer tubing, high torque motors, and batteries. Also at center stage is the cinematography: glorious high definition footage of the world at 28,000 feet altitude from the quiet solitude of the Solar Impulse cockpit.

“…glorious high definition footage of the world at 28,000 feet altitude from the quiet solitude of the Solar Impulse cockpit.”

For me to review this film is almost not fair, as I am certainly not impartial. I have been fascinated with the sky and flying machines as long as I can remember. That an object heavier than air can climb away from the ground in controlled flight still seems like magic to me, even though I understand the science. The challenge, the elegance of the machine, the engineering, and the fortitude of the people making this unlikely thing hang in the sky are, for me, reasons to be.

Pilots Bertrand Piccard and Andre Borschberg pursue their dream of a solar-powered flight around the world with support from a team of engineers, meteorologists, and safety advisors. The plane can only fly when the batteries are being charged during the day in the sun, only in perfect weather, and best with tailwinds. The weather experts are wheedled and pushed to give Nostradamus level details for the ocean weather forecasts.

“…disagreement over how much risk is acceptable pits the team against one another.”

Piccard is pilot and psychiatrist. Borschberg is pilot and engineer. They take turns flying the craft from Abu Dhabi, around the world and back. The adventure takes 10 months and they face challenge after challenge from the weather to changing of seasons and typhoons. Flying over the oceans brings the greatest risks and disagreement over how much risk is acceptable pits the team against one another. Piccard invokes everyone from Chuck Yeager to Charles Lindbergh in his impassioned pleas to keep flying.

The point of the flight is to demonstrate the practicality of electric zero-fuel flight, but this team is way out on the edge of that argument, with Solar Impulse being the very definition of impractical. They did prove it possible, with grace and daring. As of this writing only days ago Elon Musk sent his Tesla Roadster into space on the Space-X Falcon Heavy, destined for the asteroid belt : it feels like these goals are moving closer to being practical.

Filmmakers Noel Dockstader and Quinn Kanaly captured Solar Impulse through the whole project, circling the world themselves while tracking the unfolding drama both on the tarmac and at mission control in Monaco. They’ve created a beautiful document of a dream given form. 

Get more information about the Solar Impulse project.

More about the documentary here.

Point of No Return (2018) Directed by: Noel Dockstader, Quinn Kanaly. Starring: Bertrand Piccard and Andre Borschberg.

9 out of 10

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