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Google and Facebook's Fight for the Future of Tech

Google and Facebook are leveraging cash and stock valuations in a risky acquisition run to find the next profit sanctuary
Google and Facebook's Fight for the Future of Tech
Photo illustration by 731; Photographs by Getty Images

Vern Raburn’s 40-year high-tech career hasn’t lacked thrills. He opened one of the first computer stores in Los Angeles in 1976 and then became the 18th employee of a little startup called Microsoft. Enriched, he founded in the late 1990s a company, Eclipse Aviation, whose goal was to create a new kind of cheap, lightweight private jet. Backers included Bill Gates. Over the next decade, Eclipse burned through more than a billion dollars in capital and went bankrupt in 2009 amid the grip of the financial crisis. It’s now considered one of the largest financial disasters in aviation history.

Six months ago, Raburn, 64, became chief executive officer of a year-old startup called Titan Aerospace. Its young engineers are attempting to make unmanned, solar-powered airplanes that can fly for years in the upper atmosphere without landing. Raburn’s vision for the drone maker was modest: a few years of research, then selling out to an aerospace conglomerate with deep pockets. “I thought it would take three, four, or five years and would be accompanied by initials like B, L, or N, for Boeing, Lockheed, or Northrop Grumman,” he says.