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Luminati Aerospace founder hopes to hire 2,000 in five years

Former astronaut Terry Virts speaks during an open

Former astronaut Terry Virts speaks during an open house for Luminati Aerospace on June 16, 2017. Photo Credit: Randee Daddona

Luminati Aerospace LLC, the Calverton startup that seeks to build solar-powered unmanned aircraft on Long Island, could grow to 2,000 workers in five years, founder and chief executive Daniel Preston said on Friday.

Speaking while conducting a tour at a grand reopening ceremony at Plant 6, where Grumman Corp. once built F-14 jets, Preston said the employment target is “very viable.” Luminati now employs a dozen people, a spokeswoman said.

In the 1980s, Grumman was Long Island’s largest employer, with about 25,000 workers. Grumman’s presence on Long Island was cut after it was acquired for $2.1 billion by Northrop Corp. in 1994.

Luminati is negotiating with the Town of Riverhead on a $40 million land deal in the Enterprise Park at Calverton, where Plant 6 is located.

Luminati officials showed off a 3-D printer to form structural aircraft parts, and machines that resembled giant looms for processing composite fibers, in the 70,000-square-foot section of Plant 6 Luminati occupies. Attendees included politicians, military officers, former Grumman workers, a former astronaut and a one-time head of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, a Defense Department operation that funds cutting-edge projects.

Luminati plans to use its expertise in weaving composite fibers for aircraft parts and body armor that would be even lighter and stronger than those made from conventional composites.

“It’s stronger and lighter than aluminum,” said Richard Wallner, who once worked at Plant 6. Wallner was one of several former Grumman employees who attended the event.

Anthony Tether, who directed DARPA from 2001 to 2009, said Preston’s “outrageous vision” of building unmanned aircraft that could stay aloft indefinitely could “change the world.” Tether said Luminati had yet to submit a funding request to the agency.

Former astronaut Terry Virts Jr., who said he spent “about seven months” in space, lauded Luminati for “pushing aerospace technologies.”

The event came a year after a Luminati pilot flew a prototype solar-electric aircraft on June 10, 2016, at an event that was attended by the news media, politicians and aerospace representatives. An air show initially was to be part of Friday’s event, but that was canceled when it was determined that it would take too long to obtain the required permits.

In October 2015, Luminati paid $3.4 million to acquire the 16.3 acre property of Skydive Long Island at EPCAL. The company is now seeking to purchase parcels from the Town of Riverhead that officials say total almost 1,600 acres for $40 million.

Facebook was an early financial backer of Luminati, but is no longer affiliated with the company, Riverhead Town officials have said.

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