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Google Willy Wonkas park fighter jet on NASA

'82 Dornier wows space mavens

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Update: An update to this story - including a response from NASA - can be read here

Not content with a Boeing 757, a Boeing 767, and two Gulfstream Vs, Google's Willy Wonkas have now purchased a fighter jet. At least, it looks that way. The fighter is hidden behind the Chocolate Factory's wall of secrecy.

As first reported by the Mountain View Voice, federal aviation records show that H211 LLC - a private holding company controlled by Google co-founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page and chief exec Eric Schmidt - has registered a 1982 Dornier Alpha Jet. And the Voice has spoken to insiders who've seen the jet parked at Moffett Field, the NASA-run airport just a few miles from Google's Mountain View offices.

It's not surprising that the Willy Wonkas would buy a fighter jet. After all, Oracle kingpin/conspicuous fly boy Larry Ellison has already set the precedent with his F5. What's surprising is that NASA would allow them to park their Dornier at Moffett. Officially, NASA bars private jets from Moffett unless they have a "direct connection to our mission."

In September 2007, Steve Zornetzer - associate director for institutions and research at NASA's Ames Research Center - told The Reg that the Willy Wonkas' Boeing and GulfStream jets were permitted at Moffett only because the space outfit had been given "the opportunity to equip each and every [Google] plane with an on-board instrument package that will collect data on virtually every single flight that's made."

"We're interested in collecting primarily earth science data," he told us. "So we'll be interrogating the atmosphere as well as surface features of the earth as the planes fly at different altitudes. The Gulfstream Vs are particularly interesting to us because they usually fly between 40,000 and 45,000 feet, which is higher than most planes fly and we'll be able to get very interesting data that we've never collected before at those altitudes."

But a fighter jet is another matter. We find it hard to believe that NASA would need testing help from a 1982 Dornier. But that's the way Google spun it in a chat with The New York Times. The Dornier is being outfitted with scientific instruments for NASA missions, including instruments that other planes couldn't carry, the company said. "Because of the type of aircraft we are talking about, NASA now has the ability to do even more than they could before,” a spokesman burbled.

Google and NASA did not respond to our requests for comment.

What's more, the Wonkas' original pact with NASA only permits "Stage III or quieter turbine-powered aircraft." And the Dornier is officially louder.

"The concern here is 1) the noise and 2) keeping the integrity of the rules that govern the use of the airfield," longtime Moffet watchdog Lenny Siegel told The Reg. "Any one plan is not that big of a deal, but if you establish that the rules don't mean anything, who knows what will happen there in the long run to help NASA pay for the operations."

In September, NASA told us that the Willy Wonkas were paying "between $1.3m and $2.3m" year for use of the airfield. ®

Update

An update to this story - including a response from NASA - can be read here

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