About The Film

Float is a Documentary project by Phil Kibbe and Ben Saks.

In 2014, teams representing 12 countries participated in the most elite model airplane contest on the planet. The three day event, officially known as the “F1D World Championships”, was held 410 feet below the earth’s surface in the vast, cathedral-like Salt Mines under Slanic, Romania. The F1D model airplane weighs less than a dollar bill, has a two foot wingspan, and flies for over 40 minutes powered by a wound rubber band. Competitors attempt to keep the plane airborne as long as possible, and after devoting years of time into construction and practice for no material reward, glory becomes their primary incentive. Like any competition, cheating and controversy are an integral part of the event.


Without the model airplane, there might not have been manned flight. The 100 year rise and practice of “Indoor” begins with Alphonse Penaud, the eccentric Frenchman who invented the rubber band powered airplane in 1871. Years later he committed suicide, believing that his work was in vain, but his groundbreaking design became a guiding influence for the Wright brothers. Over the next century the model airplane continued to evolve, and different classes of model aircraft emerged, with the F1D rising as the most elite class. The first World Championship was held in Cardington England in 1961.


"Float" follows three American competitors as they prepare for and attend the 2014 World Championships. John Kagan, Brett Sanborn, and Yuan Kang Lee each earned spots on the U.S. team. With twenty years of experience, John Kagan is a seasoned veteran of the hobby. His actions and commentary provide overarching perspective and insight into the sport. 26 Year old Brett Sanborn, a young gun, is primed to sweep the event and a clear outlier where most competitors are well over 60. Brett is ambitious and will do whatever it takes to win. Yuan Kang Lee, who goes by Kang, is the newbie on the U.S. team. What typically takes many decades to master, Kang has achieved in a year. His zen approach to life and previous experience as a competitive golfer makes him a worthy addition, despite the doubt he faces from his own teammates.

Competitors spend countless hours hunched over workbenches, delicately assembling tiny, sophisticated components of the plane to achieve minimum weight. "Float" covers the precise process of how these planes are built. It’s a game of milligrams as they slice paper thin sheets of balsa wood and delicately glue these gossamer airships together. Devoted as the they are, the free-flight community is dying. As the number of participants drops, it becomes uncertain how much longer this hobby will last in our increasingly digital world.

A blend of time-lapse photography, archival material, animated motion graphics, and detailed interview footage filmed over the course of seven years on four continents is set to rhythmic percussion-based music. "Float" will underscore the birth and development of indoor, the painstaking technique of plane construction, and how the building process offers these focused hobbyists a deeply loved escape from the everyday.