Luminati Aerospace chief pilot Rob Lutz, left and cofounder Daniel Preston, with the company's half-scale ultralight aircraft, before Lutz took it on a brief flight as a crowd of cheering onlookers watched at the Calverton Enterprise Park on June 10, 2016. File photo: Denise Civiletti

If visionary innovator and entrepreneur Daniel Preston is able to bring his latest dream to market, the defense aerospace industry is making a comeback in the Town of Riverhead.

But that’s not all.

If Preston’s vision becomes reality, humankind will achieve perpetual flight.

Standing outside a hanger at the former Grumman plant where groundbreaking military aircraft were engineered and built, the place where the aircraft that landed man on the moon took shape, Preston shared a glimpse of his vision with an enthusiastic crowd at today’s invitation-only event.

He was about to unveil his “V zero substrata half-scale prototype” a pilot-optional plane engineered with “game-changing technologies” that Preston believes will enable Luminati to “achieve the seemingly impossible goal” of perpetual flight.

Solar cells line both wings of the ultralight half-scale aircraft. Photo: Denise Civiletti
Solar cells line both wings of the ultralight half-scale aircraft. Photo: Denise Civiletti

The single-seat prototype, which weighs just 400 pounds, is constructed of newly developed ultralight weight and ultra-high strength composite materials developed by the “dream team” Preston has assembled to power Luminati into the great beyond. It harvests wind energy and uses vortex formation flying to supplement its solar cells, a design that frees the plane from the constraints of battery weight — which makes perpetual flight on solar power alone undoable. So far, the craft has logged about 10 hours of flight time, Preston said.

Luminati cofounders Daniel Preston, left, and Stefan Maier admiring their prototype aircraft as it flew before a crowd today at the former Grumman site in Calverton. Photo: Denise Civiletti
Luminati cofounders Daniel Preston, left, and Stefan Maier admiring their prototype aircraft as it flew before a crowd today at the former Grumman site in Calverton. Photo: Denise Civiletti

“Our primary mission is perpetual flight, to provide a platform for internet connectivity to the 4 billion people remaining in the world who do not have access to internet services,” Preston told the crowd.

“All of us at Luminati are incredibly passionate about what we do…because I can’t think of another engineering project that will have a greater social impact,” he said.

But the inventor, who holds more than 100 patents in 17 countries, acknowledged another purpose for the new technologies being developed at Calverton.

“The obvious applications for what we’re doing is for our government and we are proud and patriotic to do that work,” Preston told the assembled crowd, noting, “My last aerospace company was a prime defense contractor to 15 out of the 16 DOD [Department of Defense] agencies.”

The production aircraft Luminati aims to build will be an unmanned aircraft that can cruise earth’s stratosphere perpetually.

The additional “obvious applications” to which he alluded in his speech are “intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance,” he said in an interview afterwards.

Luminati intends to be active in government work and has put together a board of experienced people to help the company obtain those contracts, Preston said.

Luminati chief pilot Rob Lutz inspected the plane before he today's flight.
Luminati chief pilot Rob Lutz inspected the plane before he today’s flight.

Chief pilot Rob Lutz climbed into the cockpit of the aircraft and took off from the runway Luminati has leased from the Town of Riverhead. He made several silent passes overhead — the plane makes no sound other than a quiet whirring — delighting the crowd now gathered at the edge of the taxiway to watch.

“This is so exciting,” said former congressman George Hochbrueckner, who before entering public life was a Grumman engineer, where he spent seven years working on the A6 and A14 fighter jets.

“We are witnessing the rebirth of aviation on Long Island.”

And it will begin immediately, even before the unmanned aerial vehicles are in production, thanks to a partnership Luminati has entered with Richard Rofé.

The company will soon begin production of the SeaMax aircraft in Calverton. Rofe “fell in love with” the SeaMax and acquired the South American company that developed the amphibious aircraft. He did not want to manufacture them in South America, Preston told RiverheadLOCAL.

“He’s a Long Islander and he wanted to bring it here,” Preston said. “It was a perfect marriage.”

Luminati, which purchased its Calverton property from SkyDive Long Island last year, had been planning to build a production facility large enough to manufacture its aircraft. The company has instead decided to move into EPCAL’s nearby Building Six, a 338,000 square-foot structure, which is now occupied by a portable storage company called PODs. PODs will be moving into a portion of the rear of the building, Preston said.

Preston said Luminati plans to be in full production on the SeaMax in Calverton “by Halloween.” Its employees will increase from 25 to more than 40 and within three years will swell to about 800.

"It was on this land that America launched the greatest fighter jets and airplanes the world has ever seen," Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter said in a speech. Photo: Denise Civiletti
“It was on this land that America launched the greatest fighter jets and airplanes the world has ever seen,” Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter said in a speech. Photo: Denise Civiletti

Riverhead Town Supervisor Sean Walter, whom Preston thanked as an “early enthusiastic supporter,” said today the town has been aware since last year Preston intended to seek defense contracts for military applications for Luminati’s breakthrough technology.

“This should be the turning point in the tortured recent histoy of EPCAL,” Walter said.

The supervisor was the first of several speakers at today’s ceremonies before the ultralight’s debut public flight at Calverton. He paid homage to Grumman’s place in aerospace and military history.

“It was on this land that America launched the greatest fighter jets and airplanes the world has ever seen. It was here at Grumman that inspiration, ingenuity, creativity and originality came together to protect our freedom and democracy,” Walter said.

“The people of Riverhead built the weapons that made dictators cringe, that made our enemies think twice before they would do us harm. Riverhead drew the line in the sand,” he said.

“The ideas and the aircraft that touched the moon and the stars, the skies and the heavens… This is our legacy. This is our history. This is the heart of our town.”

RiverheadLOCAL photos by Denise Civiletti

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