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Houston, We Have A Problem

May 24, 2012

Inside Google’s Hangar 211 at NASA/Ames Moffett Field

 MTP readers will recall that one of the perks of being a Google insider is that you get to park your private jet at Moffett Field, the NASA installation near the headquarters of the Leviathan of Mountain View, a/k/a the Googleplex.  This is the kind of thing you get to do when your Google stock gets 10 times the voting rights of anyone else’s Google stock.  (See “Life in the Two Gulfstream Family: Senator Grassley Nails NASA Administrator Over Google’s Misuse of Moffett Field“.)

How does it happen that Google executives get this perk you may ask?  What is the justification?  Devine right, perhaps?  No…well, maybe in Silicon Valley, but not in America, surely?

You can just imagine Larry and Sergei trying to find a good parking spot for their jets and deciding on Moffett, the iconic airfield hangar on the San Francisco Peninsula, a stone’s throw from the Googleplex.

But—what’s interesting is that their names do not appear once in the relevant leasing document, the “REIMBURSABLE SPACE ACT AGREEMENT BETWEEN NASA AMES RESEARCH CENTER AND H211, LLC REGARDING AUTONOMOUS EARTH OBSERVATIONS.IN SUPPORT OF GLOBAL CHANGE RESEARCH” or, as it is known by its short name, the “Chicks Dig the Plane Deal.”

H211 LLC is apparently the entity that Google executives formed to handle their dealings with NASA on the planes that has a neighborly relationship with Blue City Holdings LLC that evidently owned one 767 that it sold to Google, according to reports.  A Boeing 767-238(ER) tail number N2767 to be precise.  (“H211” refers to Hangar 211 at Moffett Field.)

H211 replied to Senator Grassley’s letter to the NASA Administrator—now why didn’t the NASA Administrator respond?  Maybe it has something to do with this 2008 story from the New York Times:

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.

So wouldn’t you think that if the purpose of giving Google a lease on Moffett Field was to have Google’s fleet of jets do experiments for NASA that once it became apparent that the planes couldn’t actually handle the experiments–there would be no more reason for Google to have the use of Moffett Field?

And oh, yes, the “Alpha Jet”?

A company controlled by Google’s top executives [that’s H211 LLC], including its billionaire founders, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, appears to have added a new plane to its well-equipped fleet: a fighter jet, or more precisely a Dornier Alpha Jet. According to Wikipedia, the Alpha Jet is a a light attack jet and advanced trainer aircraft manufactured by Dornier of Germany and Dassault-Breguet of France.

This plane:

Another interesting fact is that the Google contracts relating to the basing rights for the Google fleet contain in the “PURPOSE” paragraph one of the most indirect descriptions I’ve ever seen, worth of the Allegory of the Cave:

NASA and Partner [that’s H211 LLC] are concurrently entering into that certain NASA Ames Research Center Enhanced Use Lease (SAA2 – 402054) (the “Lease”) with respect to the premises more particularly described therein and commonly known as the hangar bay of Hangar 211 and ancillary support space.  Partner is beneficially owned by the principal executives of an entity (the “Programmatic Partner”) with whom NASA ARC has a programmatic, collaborative relationship.”

 Now if you didn’t know, would you ever guess that the English translation of “Partner is beneficially owned by the principal executives of an entity (the “Programmatic Partner”) with whom NASA ARC has a programmatic, collaborative relationship” means H211 LLC is owned and controlled by Larry Page, Sergei Brin and Eric Schmidt?  And that the Programmatic Partner is Google, Inc.?

So why “beneficial owner”?  That term usually means that someone (the “legal owner”) holds the item, shares in this case it appears, in trust for someone else.  That’s most likely because because the legal owner of H211 LLC appears to be Hillspire LLC.   With an address of 555 Bryant Street in Palo Alto, also known as the UPS Store.  According to its website, “Hillspire is an integrated family office investment management firm that was formed in 2006 to manage the capital of a California-based family.”

According to public records, though, Hillspire LLC is owned by Big Hen Group II, LLC, Blue City Holdings LLC, H211, LLC, Top of The Hill Partners, LLC, Waverley Street, LLC, Eric Schmidt and relateds, and something called Schmidt Investments.  According to Linkedin, Hilspire is “a wealth management firm with asset under management in excess of one billion dollars.”

We didn’t have time to go through all of these entities, but in order for the statement in the NASA contract to be true, it seems that some or all of the entities would have to have shares owned by Page and Brin.  That’s kind of hard to tell.

Then there’s the question of security.  Do you think you need to have a security clearance to get onto a NASA research facility?  Assuming you weren’t landing a fighter jet there, of course.

Stay tuned….

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