News


Google execs' fighter jet is no toy, NASA says

The fighter jet brought quietly to Moffett Field a few months ago isn't a toy for Google executives, say NASA officials, but in fact will help the agency collect atmospheric data and fight wildfires.

But some observers remain skeptical, noting that the jet, while luucrative for NASA Ames, has yet to collect any data.

The European-built Dornier Alpha Jet, a sleek two-seater capable of 600 miles per hour, is one of five planes belonging to H211 LLC, a company owned by Google executives Sergey Brin, Larry Page and Eric Schmidt. Besides the Alpha Jet, H211's fleet includes two jumbo jets stationed at Moffett and two Gulfstream Vs stationed at San Jose Airport.

Officials say the Alpha Jet, however, can do what the other planes cannot: fulfill the terms of a lease with NASA Ames, signed in August 2007, that allows H211's private planes to land at Moffett Federal Airfield. In exchange, the company pays NASA more than $1.3 million a year and lets the agency outfit its planes with scientific instruments.

NASA officials admitted Monday that so far no special scientific instruments have been fitted to any H211 planes, after hundreds of flights and more than year of allowing them to fly out of Moffett. The only equipment used on them thus far is handheld cameras, said Steve Zornetzer, deputy director of NASA Ames, in an e-mail.

The cameras were used to take footage of the Aurigid meteor shower on Aug. 31, 2007 for the SETI Institute. That was the last scientific mission for H211.

As for the money, it already helped NASA Ames close a $7 million deficit for Moffett runway operations last year, Zornetzer said. The Alpha Jet brings even more revenue for NASA Ames, he said, although he wouldn't give specifics.

Zornetzer added that failing to pay for runway operations could threaten Ames' control of the runway -- a bad development for local residents given the Federal Aviation Administration's eagerness to allow cargo flights there.

But Lenny Siegel, director of the Center for Public Environmental Oversight, a group involved with Moffett's restoration, thought the arrangement could be setting a bad precedent.

"If anyone can use the airfield to help Ames overcome its deficit, who knows what will end up there," he said.

City Hall officials were less vigorous in their criticism. Council member Jac Siegel said the issue is between Ames and Google. Council member Laura Macias expressed concern, saying the arrangement is "not something that I can feel really good about."

When dealing with local businesses, she said, "It's always a balance. I think in this case it's a little bit too cozy."

The existance of H211's Alpha Jet was revealed publicly for the first time in a Voice story last week. Zornetzer said the jet was purchased in December 2007 after it was realized that H211's other planes couldn't be modified, due to FAA regulations, to hold the scientific equipment required under the lease agreement. For technical reasons, the FAA restrictions don't apply to the Alpha Jet.

The fact that four of the five H211 planes won't serve much of a purpose to NASA's mission won't keep them out of Moffett, Zornetzer said. According to the original lease agreement, the planes were supposed to be fitted with the scientific instruments by August of this year.

Zornetzer said the Alpha Jet is now undergoing a major revamp -- resulting in a quieter engine and a payload of instruments built and paid for by NASA -- before it begins flights out of Moffett this spring. It has been in Seattle off and on to receive the modifications, he said.

"This particular Alpha Jet is being converted from military to civilian use," he said. "Its turbo-fan engine will be stage III compliant; it will not be noisy when done."

Atmospheric data from the Alpha Jet's payload will be collected by the earth science division at NASA Ames led by Stephen Hipskind. The plane can fly in and out of Moffett as the Google executives see fit. Zornetzer noted that H211 made up only 1 percent of the 19,000 flights in and out of Moffett last year.

The Alpha Jet's NASA payload will also include equipment to collect data on wildfires: high resolution cameras, hyper-spectral analysis instruments and an infrared detector. NASA has an unmanned aircraft called the Ikhana that collects similar data.

Comments

Posted by permission?us?, a resident of North Whisman
on Oct 23, 2008 at 4:30 pm

Don't be silly-Google can do ANYthing they want.....


Posted by Rez, a resident of The Crossings
on Oct 23, 2008 at 6:13 pm

What Google wants, Google gets....


Posted by gaetan, a resident of another community
on Oct 24, 2008 at 11:22 am

The AlphaJet was NOT a "Fighter" but a advanced trainer aricraft, and the jet of the famoust "Patrouille de France" (French Flight Demonstration Squadron)


Posted by JimF, a resident of another community
on Oct 24, 2008 at 11:29 am

Are there any people on earth that create more pollution than Google's founders?


Posted by Sam, a resident of another community
on Oct 24, 2008 at 12:54 pm

Equipped it's planes with scientific equipment? As a taxpayer footing the bill for this equipment, I demand to see some data!


Posted by Doug, a resident of Old Mountain View
on Oct 24, 2008 at 5:44 pm

The seller of the aircraft calls it a "German Jet Strike" aircraft.

Web Link


Posted by Bernie Brightman, a resident of North Whisman
on Oct 25, 2008 at 10:50 am

And if you believe that...

I'm sure a free flight at supersonic speed will close the deal for any of Google's top customers.


Posted by Blah, a resident of Shoreline West
on Oct 26, 2008 at 6:21 am

And if you don't like that...

Google will launch air strikes on your house.


Posted by Jon Wiener, a resident of another community
on Oct 26, 2008 at 9:38 pm

Congratulations: you guys are Jim Clark.


Posted by CO 2 police, a resident of Old Mountain View
on Oct 30, 2008 at 8:04 pm

These guys are about as green as a fleet of thousands of hummers running around taking data on traffic congestion. Their jet likely consumes more gas and creates more CO2 in one hour than a whole family does in a year.
Honesty would be better.
I am rich and if I want a fast plane, I don't care what it costs me or you.
Watching these guys fall from grace will be enjoyable.


Posted by Alison Chaiken, a resident of Shoreline West
on Nov 3, 2008 at 6:38 pm

Kudos to the _Voice_ for breaking a story that was later featured in the _NY Times_ essentially unaltered. We are lucky that our small city has a real, independent newspaper.


Posted by Colin Douglas Howell, a resident of The Crossings
on Nov 4, 2008 at 5:13 pm

When I first heard about this story, I was intrigued and curious what sort of fighter the Google founders had managed to acquire. Then I found out it was an Alpha Jet, and I realized the story was much ado about nothing.

Calling the Alpha Jet a "fighter" is like calling a Honda CRV a heavy truck. It may look like a fighter to people unused to military aircraft, but it is just a small, light jet, designed for advanced training of air force pilots and for ground attack with light weapons. It is not capable of supersonic flight. It has about the same weight and engine power as a small business jet, and is only slightly faster.

As for its fuel usage, based on its speed, range, and fuel capacity, I estimate that it would burn somewhere around 150 gallons of fuel per hour. Of course, that's a lot of fuel to normal people. Flying is expensive; I don't think that should surprise anyone. For comparison, an ordinary car would get about 3000 to 4500 miles on the same amount of fuel, depending on its mileage. I think most cars cover more than that distance per year, and most families have more than one car, not to mention other ways they use energy. So it seems excessive to me to claim, as "CO 2 police" does, that this plane would consume more gas and create more CO2 in an hour than a family would in a year.

Hell, the two Gulfstream Vs owned by the Google founders are much bigger and more fuel-hungry than this little Alpha Jet, not to mention the 767 and 757 they also own (though calling those "jumbo jets" is an exaggeration). If you're going to attack them for being rich and burning fuel, stick to the big game.


Posted by Sam, a resident of North Whisman
on Nov 28, 2008 at 11:38 am

MV residents should be grateful that Google dug in here. Google should give residents of 40 years or longer a $100,000,000. bonus. A drop in the bucket for them.


Posted by David, a resident of Jackson Park
on Feb 18, 2009 at 10:07 am

This is so awesome!! I wish I was one of the founders of Google... I really want a jet :)

The nearest I'm going to get is trying to win a flight in a fighter jet! (Web Link)

Well I can always dream...


Posted by Good Shepherd, a resident of Monta Loma
on Mar 17, 2009 at 5:46 pm

Who gives a hoot about this! Our Constitution is being shat upon daily by our Federal gov't and has been since FDR and you bozo, pseudo-intellectuals computer geeks want to talk about "CO2". Let's unite, and move collectively toward getting rid of this New World Order that has usurped our great Nation. We can no longer afford to ignore the threat these people pose to us as a culture of self-governed peoples who collectively make up these states united. Turn off your tv's, fire up the PC's and do a Google search on "novus ordo seclorum"...... which is on your dollar bill you wanker! Wake up America your country is gone!


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