On June 16, Luminati Aerospace executives cut a ribbon ceremonially opening Plant 6 at the former Calverton Grumman Plant.
On June 16, Luminati Aerospace executives cut a ribbon ceremonially opening Plant 6 at the former Calverton Grumman Plant.

If you’ve been wondering what Luminati Aerospace is working on at the former Grumman plant in Calverton, this past Friday might have been your one chance to see their work in action.

The company, founded in 2015 by inventor Daniel Preston, makes ultralight high altitude unmanned solar-powered drones, which can be used to provide internet access to hard-to-reach locations around the world.

Daniel Preston with the carbon fiber
Daniel Preston with the carbon fiber placement machine.

Mr Preston was the prior chief of Atair Aerospace, a firm that designed military parachutes which he sold for $22 million in 2009.

Luminati’s team is working in the former Grumman Plant 6 at the Enterprise Park at Calverton, where Grumman workers built the lunar lander for NASA’s Apollo missions, and where A-6 Intruder and F-14 Tomcat attack aircraft went through final assembly. At the time, due to the aircrafts’ reputation for rugged sturdiness, the plant was known as the Grumman Ironworks.

At its height, Grumman was the largest employer on Long Island, with 23,000 workers, before shuttering its Long Island locations when the company was acquired by Northrop in 1994.

On the floor of Plant 6 during the height of Grumman production.
On the floor of Plant 6 during the height of Grumman production.

“No one who worked at Grumman will ever forget it,” said Mr. Preston during a June 16 ceremony, attended by several hundred dignitaries, community members and former Grumman workers celebrating the re-opening of Plant 6. “We’re here today because it can happen again.”

Luminati is negotiating a contract with Riverhead Town to buy 2,300 acres of the former Grumman property, given to the town by the U.S. Navy in 1998. Six hundred of those acres  are developable, while 1,700 are preserved grasslands.

“Our business plan requires significant expansion and will create thousands of high-paying jobs,” said Mr. Preston. “We’re very proud, after 25 years, that Plant 6 is open again.”

Dr. Tony Tether, the former director of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), said many people in the audience “owed their existence to a Grumman Aircraft that was shot to shreds in World War II and was still able to transport passengers safely.”

Dr. Tether said he believes Long Island could become the Silicon Valley of the East Coast. 

“Smart people with revolutionary ideas will attract other smart people with revolutionary ideas,” he said. “Can this really happen? I believe it can.”

He added that DARPA, which in the 1960s originated the computer networking tools that laid the groundwork for the internet, “wanted the whole world to have access to internet capability.”

Astronaut Terry Verts.
Astronaut Terry Virts.

Dr. Tether said Luminati’s project could do just that.

“This allows for perpetual stratospheric flight, right above you, while never returning for fuel,” he said. “It’s an affordable platform that could connect four billion people who don’t have access to the internet.”

Former NASA astronaut Terry Virts, who grew up watching the Apollo missions and was in flight school when Top Gun made the F-14 famous, said he’d always felt a connection to the work Grumman had done in Calverton.

“But more important than history, I think, is the future,” he said. “A drone flying perpetually can really change the world in a way like the development of cars or cell phones did. And the potential for American manufacturing jobs is really exciting.”

Many former Grumman workers who were in attendance were curious to learn more about the new project, and shared stories about their time working there.

Former Grumman worker Leon Jasinski.
Former Grumman worker Leon Jasinski.

Leon Jasinski, Sr., 92, of Riverhead, came to see the plant where he’d worked for nearly 35 years, wearing a blue windbreaker with the Grumman logo on his breast pocket.

He said he began working in Plant 6 in 1951 and retired in 1984. He started work in avionics, working on wiring the aircraft, before moving to hydraulics, a heavier-duty job, later in his career.

He remembered plant workers playing baseball games on their lunch breaks just outside the hangar, with different divisions on the assembly line making up different teams.

On the floor that had once been filled with assembly lines of F-14 jets, much of the hangar is now taken up by a giant TorresFiberLayUp, an automatic fiber placement machine used to manufacture high contour carbon fiber aircraft components. 

On the day everyone visited, it was making a rib for an Airbus A380, said Mr. Preston.

To the north side of the hangar, he demonstrated Luminati’s patented fiber placement technique, which makes ultralight textiles that have 80 interwoven layers, while most companies are making fabrics with just two layers.

Mr. Preston said the textiles provide NHA Type 3 ballistic protection “at half the weight of anything the military has for armor piercing.”

Members of the crowd with experience in high tech manufacturing were curious about the amount of foreign object damage from an environment filled with people in street clothes, who stayed after the ribbon cutting for lunch in the hangar.

A technician adjusts the TorresFiberLayUp machine.
A technician adjusts the TorresFiberLayUp machine.

Mr. Preston said there were so many people there that day because Luminati only plans to open up the hanger to visitors just this once, in part to keep a clean manufacturing environment, and in part because Riverhead has asked them to not make the site open to the public as a condition of the sale.

“We’re doing this all at once because it’s not happening again,” he said.

As for Luminati’s plan to buy the whole property?

“We love the town, but the only way we can make the investments we need to make is if there’s a single administrator here with a long-term plan,” said Mr. Preston.


Beth Young
Beth Young is an award-winning local journalist who has been covering the East End since the 1990s. She began her career at the Sag Harbor Express and, after receiving her Masters from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, has reported for the Southampton Press, the East Hampton Press and the Times/Review Media Group. She founded the East End Beacon website in 2013, and a print edition in 2017. Beth was born and raised on the North Fork. In her spare time, she tinkers with bicycles, tries not to drown in the Peconic Bay and hopes to grow the perfect tomato. You can send her a message at editor@eastendbeacon.com

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