Zeppelins went out of style when the Hindenburg went down in flames over New Jersey. But Airship Ventures, a startup backed by quirky angel investor Esther Dyson, is trying to bring them back. With a little help from Dyson's friends. Airship's Zeppelin NT, the first to fly over the U.S. in 70 years, has just completed a transatlantic journey and is scheduled to touch down this afternoon at the Nasa-operated Moffett Field, where it will be permanently stationed, operating aerial tours of the Bay Area. Curious — a private enterprise making use of public lands. Nasa's excuse for hosting the zeppelin: It will be used for scientific investigations and other public-spirited purposes. Where have we heard that before?Why, with the Google founders' fleet of party planes, which are also parked at Moffett Field, with the excuse that they sometimes fly scientific missions. (In fact, the Google founders' jets proved impractical for Nasa's science needs; Larry Page, Sergey Brin, and Eric Schmidt bought a fighter jet to fly those missions instead.) One of Airship Ventures' backers is an entity called Amphitheatre Holdings. Amphitheatre is incorporated in Delaware under the address of INV Tax Group, which Google may have purchased in a real-estate transaction two years ago. Google's headquarters is at 1600 Amphitheatre Parkway in Mountain View, Calif. This hardly seems like coincidence. Dyson is an investor in 23andMe, the Google-backed startup of Anne Wojcicki, wife of founder Sergey Brin. Has Dyson taken Google's shareholders for a ride, by having them take a hidden stake in a blimp startup?
It's the 50th anniversary of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, better known as NASA, and Google's rolled out a commemorative logo. The graphic features the Voyager spacecraft, Mars and moon landing vehicles and the Mercury rocket. Not featured? Any of the aircraft in Larry and Sergey's party-plane fleet, which are parked at NASA's Moffett Field and allowed to take off and land from the publicly owned facility increasingly known for private privilege.
The Google Party Plane isn't the only aircraft using Nasa's Moffett Field to shuttle tech execs in and out of the Valley. An eagle-eyed plane spotter caught Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk's Dassault Falcon taking a round trip between Moffett and Orange County's Van Nuys airport this week. "It must be nice," says the tipster, implying a breathy sigh. My question is, as one of the few people with a Tesla Roadster in his garage, why didn't Musk drive that to the Southland instead of burning gallons of jet fuel? Oh, right, that's well outside the roadster's range.
We haven't heard much about the Google Jet, lately — the converted 767 airline that serves as Larry Page and Sergey Brin's party palace in the sky. But we were intrigued by this tip: "Could have sworn I saw the Google Jet yesterday sitting on the tarmac at Moffett Field at about 6:30 p.m. How convenient for the boys!" Convenient, indeed, since Moffett Field is practically adjacent to Google's Mountain View headquarters. But last we checked, the airport was owned by the government and run by NASA, and not, as far as we're aware, available for private use. Google, however, has had a deal since 2005 to develop offices and housing at the NASA site. Could landing rights for Page's and Brin's private jet be part of the deal?