-Google Founders’ Fighter Jet Will Fly NASA Missions.

Posted: October 24, 2008 in 2008, Articles


A NASA official said Friday that the top Googlers’ new fighter jet will be used mostly to fly missions for the agency that four other jets owned by Google’s top executives could not handle.

“They are dedicating the plane primarily for NASA payloads,” said Steve Zornetzer, associate director of the NASA Ames Research Center, which operates Moffett Field near the Google campus. He said that the Google executives’ pilots would use the Dornier Alpha Jet for “training and pilot proficiency.”

Last year, a company controlled by Larry Page and Sergey Brin, Google’s founders, along with Eric Schmidt, its chief executive, signed an unusual agreement with NASA giving them rights to use Moffett Field, an airfield adjacent to Google, for their growing fleet of private airplanes. At the time, NASA described the arrangement as a win-win: NASA would receive $1.3 million in rent every year, and it would get to place scientific instruments on the planes for use by its researchers.

Mr. Zornetzer said things didn’t turn out exactly as expected. The Googlers and the agency both found out that they could not make modifications to the passenger planes, which include a Boeing 767, a Boeing 757 and two Gulfstream Vs, without getting new certifications from the Federal Aviation Administration each time.

“Any modification to the exterior or electronics requires new certification,” Mr. Zornetzer said. So the Googlers brought in the fighter jet. “The Alpha Jet they are bringing on board is considered an experimental aircraft, so we don’t have the same issues as with a passenger plane,” he added.

Mr. Zornetzer said the Alpha Jet will spend most of the next few months in Seattle being converted from military to civilian use. The modifications include making it quieter, to comply with noise restrictions at civilian airports. It will start flying out of Moffett Field in the spring. The NASA missions now being contemplated include the testing of greenhouse gases and other emissions over California and the detection of and response to disasters, including fires.

When news of the agreement between the Google executives and NASA first surfaced, some residents of Mountain View and adjacent communities worried about the extra noise that their flights would produce. Mr. Zornetzer said that the executives’ planes have accounted for only about 88 flights in the past year or so, less than 1 percent of the approximately 19,000 annual flights at Moffett. Ninety-five percent of the flights at Moffett are military flights, he said.

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