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Internet drone venture in Riverhead plans 40 tech jobs 'immediately'

Daniel Preston of Luminati Aerospace talks to members

Daniel Preston of Luminati Aerospace talks to members of the media after a town board meeting in Riverhead, Oct. 8, 2015. Credit: Ed Betz

Luminati Aerospace LLC, whose plan to make high-altitude, solar-powered drones in Calverton is said to be backed by a major Internet company, will create 40 tech jobs "immediately," chief executive Daniel Preston said Thursday.

Preston, who declined to identify what he called the "client" behind the drone plan, said his company would spend two years in a developmental "skunk works phase" and begin manufacturing the unmanned aircraft in the third year.

He said his company has "the express purpose of building the next generation of solar electric unmanned aerial vehicles."

In an interview earlier this week, Raymond Maynard, former owner of Skydive Long Island, which sold its 16.3-acre property in Calverton in September to Luminati, said that the drone maker is backed by a widely known Internet company, but that he could not reveal its name under a nondisclosure agreement.

Preston spoke Thursday after attending a work session of the Town of Riverhead board, at which Luminati requested access to a 10,000-foot runway at the former Navy property at Calverton, once used by Grumman Corp.

In 2014, Internet giants Google Inc. and Facebook Inc. acquired developers of solar-powered drones. Google bought New Mexico-based drone maker Titan Aerospace, while Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg announced the company was buying Ascenta, based in Britain.

The goal, Zuckerberg said in a Facebook posting, is to use drones to beam Internet service to remote parts of the world.

Preston, however, deflected reporters' questions about Luminati's backer. "I'm not at liberty to say," he said.

Preston formerly was an executive at Brooklyn-based Atair Aerospace, whose EXO-Wing, described then as the world's smallest human-piloted jet airplane, went on exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2008.

Luminati officials said they are seeking employees skilled in information technology and computer-aided design and manufacturing, among other disciplines.

A public hearing is scheduled for Oct. 20 on granting Luminati access to the runway.

Town Supervisor Sean Walter said he expects the board to move quickly on Luminati's application to expand a building on the property it acquired from Maynard's skydiving business.

With Will James

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