Luminati Aerospace LLC has unveiled a "dream team" of scientists and engineers hoping to develop the "next generation" of unmanned aircraft in Calverton, a project some hopeful supporters likened to the revival of Long Island's aerospace industry.
Company leaders introduced themselves to Riverhead officials and residents Tuesday, during a public hearing on a proposal for the company to rent a town-owned runway in Calverton for $31,810 a year.
Daniel Preston, Luminati's founder and chief executive, said Tuesday that he entered college at age 12 and left at 18 to start his first company. He said he holds more than 100 patents and pending patents for inventions in 17 countries.
Luminati recently purchased 16.3 acres for $3.4 million at the Enterprise Park at Calverton, a 2,900-acre site where Grumman Corp. once built and tested F-14 Tomcats for the Navy and provided 3,000 jobs -- before the Long Island aerospace industry's decline after the Cold War.
Luminati officials have described their company as the "Skunk Works for a major dot-com" but have declined to identify their backer. The company is seeking to build solar-powered vehicles that can remain aloft "nearly indefinitely."
"It's like the rebirth of Grumman," said Matt Stevens, owner of Island Diversified Inc., a construction company based at the Calverton park. "It's incredible what these people are going to do."
Preston said he wanted to expand Luminati into a "global force" in the aerospace industry and establish a "long and mutually beneficial relationship" with Riverhead.
Barnaby Wainfan, Luminati's chief designer, has a master's degree in aerospace engineering and spent most of his career at Northrop Grumman. He said he has contributed to the designs of 21 aircraft, two of which he personally flight tested.
Wainfan, a Queens native, said he learned to fly at Long Island's Deer Park Airport and remembers "dodging F-14s out of Calverton." He said he recalled the heyday of aerospace on Long Island and is "very much looking forward to coming home and being part of that rebirth."
Anthony Calise, the company's chief scientist, holds a doctorate in electrical engineering and said he helped design the first Patriot missile system for Raytheon. He said he has taught engineering at Drexel University and the Georgia Institute of Technology.
"I'm very excited about the project that's about to emerge," Calise said at the hearing. "It's really the biggest thing that's happened to me in my career. The people we've attracted to this project are really the best."
Critics at the hearing said town officials weren't charging enough for use of the 10,000-foot runway. "I don't think we're talking about serious compensation here," said Larry Simms, a South Jamesport resident.
Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter said the town planned to charge the same fee as the one paid by the runway's previous tenant, Skydive Long Island. Luminati officials have also agreed to repair and maintain the runway.
"There were other states that were going to pay them to come," Walter told Simms. Riverhead officials agreed to accept written comments on the deal until Oct. 30.
Preston said Luminati looked at several sites across the country and "this is the only one that's requiring us to pay." He said that, if the deal is approved, company officials plan to enter negotiations with the town for the purchase of a 7,000-foot runway at the park.