Google Shuts Down Vern Raburn’s Titan Aerospace

In a bid to rein in costs, Google parent company Alphabet is scaling back ambitious “moonshot” projects and assigning Titan employees to other areas.

Titan Aerospace
A high-flying solar-powered drone that was being developed by Titan Aerospace to bring Internet to remote areas of the world.Titan Aerospace

Mystery surrounds what former Eclipse Aviation founder and CEO Vern Raburn is doing these days, but we do know that Alphabet, Google’s parent company, has pulled the plug on Titan Aerospace, the company Raburn had been tapped to head to build solar-powered drones that would beam Internet to remote parts of the world.

X, the division of Alphabet with responsibility for Titan Aerospace, has encouraged former Titan employees to take jobs elsewhere in the company. An X spokeswoman was quoted as saying that the company has shifted its attention instead to Project Loon, which is focused on developing high-altitude balloons for delivering Internet from the sky.

When we met up with Raburn a few years ago at EAA AirVenture in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, he was highly bullish on Titan Aerospace, telling us that Google was pumping a lot of money into the endeavor, giving him the freedom to innovate. In May 2015, however, Titan crashed its prototype in the New Mexico desert four minutes after takeoff.

Raburn hasn’t spoken publicly about Titan Aerospace in the last year, and it appears that Google no longer has the stomach for hugely expensive research projects like the one Raburn headed. It is unclear if Raburn, who developed the Eclipse 500 very light jet before the company went bankrupt in 2008, has any involvement with X or Alphabet at this point.

“Titan was brought into X in late 2015. We ended our exploration of high-altitude unmanned aerial vehicles for Internet access shortly after,” Alphabet’s research arm, X, said in a statement. “By comparison, at this stage the economics and technical feasibility of Project Loon present a much more promising way to connect rural and remote parts of the world.”