City Council members in Google's hometown may be paid only $500 a month by the city, but Mountain View council member John Inks has found another perk to the job -- a thrill ride in a fighter jet owned by the founders of Google.
"It was more than interesting," Inks said of the one-hour Jan. 4 trip. At one point Inks himself flew the jet straight up until it stalled, on purpose. "You just push the stick to get out of it, it's not a big deal," Inks said. "It was easy to in that plane."
Before the flight Inks says he'd only flown a small Cessna, but the French Dornier Alpha Jet is capable pulling enough gravitational force in a turn, 4.5 Gs, that you have to keep your muscles tight to keep blood from rushing to your head, Inks said. "I was pressed into the seat pretty well" as the plane was pitched into Immelman turns and Split S maneuvers. The flight took Inks out over the Pacific Ocean mostly, and around Santa Cruz and Carmel.
The jet is one of eight planes the executives of Google, Larry Page, Sergei Brin and Eric Schmidt, have parked at Moffett Field's Hangar 211. An agreement with NASA Ames Research Center allows NASA to use the planes for scientific research. Inks said some of the thrilling maneuvers are necessary to fulfill an agreement with NASA.
"This plane is used to verify airworthiness of instruments that measure atmospheric emissions, greenhouse gasses and other space science," Inks said in an email. "Special acrobatic maneuvers are required. All this is part of Google's partnership to fulfill requirements of the Space Act."
"Its an unbelievable operation," Inks said of H211, the corporation that operates the planes for the Google executives.
Inks said the city looked into whether the flight could be construed as a gift and pose a conflict of interest. Inks participates in council decisions that could favor or hurt Google's business, such as whether to support its latest development project.
"FPPC determined the flight was 'informational material,' not a gift," Inks wrote in an email.
Inks learned a few other things of interest, such as the fact that H211 director Ken Ambrose, who took Inks on the flight, commutes to work by helicopter from his farm in the Southern California city of Walnut, and he is qualified to fly 14 different types of planes.
The flight was offered to Inks after a meeting in which Ambrose presented the offer for Google's founders to save Moffett Field's Hangar One, a project that could cost over $45 million. "You're a pilot, would you like to go into the alpha jet?" Inks recalled Ambrose asking. "I said, 'Yeah, are you kidding?'"