“Someone has to do it first. Someone has to try.”
The quote is from Bertrand Piccard, one of the two Swiss pilots who, against all possible odds, conflicts, and hardships, will fly a delicate, marvel of aeronautical engineering called Solar Impulse around the world. It will take some time. The plane will take off in one direction on March 9, 2015, and return to the same spot over a year later from the opposite direction on July 26, 2016. There’ll be 11 planned stops – the plane can only seat one pilot, so Piccard, along with Andre Borschberg, will take turns – but it will be done. And what a remarkable achievement it is; a plane that circles the globe, flying entirely on the power of the sun.
Piccard continues. “To have an aeroplane that could fly forever, without fuel. No noise, no pollution. That was the dream from the beginning.”
What you’ll see throughout the documentary’s 93 minutes is what happened along the way, the problems encountered, the frustrations felt, and the final sense of overwhelming jubilation exhibited once Solar Impulse finally reaches its destination. Filmmakers Quinn Kanaly and Noel Dockstader spent their time on opposite sides of the world, communicating by phone, relaying their ideas, never knowing how events would unfold, or how it would conclude. The end result is simply extraordinary.
Seen from not only the point of view of the two pilots, but also the men and women who made up the team of scientists and engineers – more than a 120 of them back at mission control, monitoring and advising – Point of No Return is ultimately inspirational, a testament to what can be achieved even when, at any moment, disaster appears to be the likeliest of outcomes. “You have to be on the positive side, or you’ll never do it,” remarks one of the pilots while grounded due to inclement weather.
Emotions are going to run high. When the Safety Board Review concludes that Piccard can’t be the pilot to fly the long stretch across the Pacific, he’s not happy, particularly after all the training involved, including what to do if forced to bail out over the ocean. It will have to be Borschberg exclusively in the pilot seat.
Yet, problems continue, even for Borschberg. Bad weather persists, and with such a long flight ahead without a break before a planned landing in Hawaii, so much could potentially go so wrong. For one thing, the plane’s batteries could die under continuous cloud cover. Because of the high risk of losing Solar Impulse to the elements, and then to the ocean, it has to be diverted to back, not to China where it left but to Japan where it will remain until conditions improve. But even that comes with problems. With no appropriate hangar to protect it, and its ground crew still in China where it initially took flight before engaging the Pacific Ocean, the plane remains in danger. Under high winds without protection, its delicate frame could easily snap in two.
Its no plot spoiler to reveal that conditions will eventually clear, and Borschberg will be back in the pilot’s seat flying over the Pacific. But problems will continue. More emotions will run high. When recommendations from the team regarding the landing in Hawaii are not followed, threats of resignation from the team occur.
Perhaps the most poignant moment in the documentary, particularly for lovers of all things aeronautical, is the brief sequence filmed at Phoenix Goodyear Airport. After Solar Impluse makes its scheduled Arizona stop, like a tourist taking in the sights, Piccard uses his down time to inspect the storage and preservation of obsolete aircraft. Seeing the long lines of abandoned planes in the middle of the desert looking like the airline industry’s equivalent to an Elephant’s Graveyard, the moment is a sad experience for the pilot. He becomes both emotional and reflective. With solar energy in mind, Piccard talks to the camera of how, when people speak of fuel forever, they should think of the gold rush and the ghost towns that followed. Nothing last forever. Every color finally fades.
But ultimately the documentary is a positive statement and ends on a high note as Solar Impulse makes it final landing, back where it all started (which has to be a slap in the face for the ludicrous, though ridiculously fast emerging beliefs of the Flat Earth Society). The event is met with joyous celebration, not only from the team back at Mission Control who, for the first time in well over a year, can finally breathe a sigh of relief, but from the people around the world, glued to the TV as news reports from stations broadcasting everywhere reported the event.
As the appropriately named Piccard, who, with co-pilot Borrschberg went and did something that no man had ever gone and done before, someone had to be first; someone had to try. As documented in the film Point of No Return, you’ll witness it achieved.
Point of No Return will be shown on Thursday, March 1 at 4:00 PM, with a repeated screening on Saturday, March 3 at 1:00 PM.
For a direct link to the 2018 Sedona International Film Festival schedule and to order tickets for Point of No Return, CLICK HERE