Restoring a legacy and the power of Calverton

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By Tom Gwynne

There was a time when Calverton’s sprawling collection of Grumman hangars, assembly buildings, testing facilities and laboratories were at the center of America’s aerospace dominance. Innovation lived just inside the fence where thousands of well-paid engineers, technicians, fabricators, machinists, scientists and managers reported every day. Their presence helped drive the local economy, enhance real estate values, generate taxes and attract a new generation to build not just fighter planes on Long Island, but careers on Long Island.

Then the Secretary of Defense shut down the A-6 Intruder production line. Layoffs quickly followed.

And then he moved to shut down the F-14 Tomcat production line. That one-two punch was the beginning of the end of Calverton and Grumman as Long Island knew them. As the region’s economy refashioned itself from no longer being the home to dominant defense companies, the East End and the Town of Riverhead lost an economic powerhouse that has truly not been replaced some thirty years later.

Except Springtime may finally have come to this historic property and my former workplace.

Luminati Aerospace, a technology innovator, already has a presence at Calverton. With closely guarded proprietary projects it has all the makings of a Long Island “skunkworks”, the shorthand given to those companies specifically challenged to quietly create technology breakthroughs.  But now Luminati has partnered with a deep pocketed national real estate development company, Triple Five, to build on the legacy of what we created at Calverton, under a new banner, Calverton Aviation & Technology (CAT). (No small irony given Grumman’s fondness for naming its fighters after cats.)

Currently before Riverhead Town officials is a $40 million proposal by these partners to purchase 1,600 acres of town-owned Calverton property. Their investment would build on the estimated $30 million already invested in Calverton by Luminati to create an industrial infrastructure that will give them the means to work on projects such as experimental solar-powered aircraft, revolutionary composite structures and more. But CAT envisions an entire multimillion dollar campus of companies working in synergy to create breakthroughs that will not only allow the nation to secure its technology leadership, but help define the 21st Century.

Luminati has already announced its intention to reactivate both runways so that its aviation products can be tested adjacent to their facilities, but with the financial power of Triple Five, the two envision an environment that encompasses research and manufacturing in areas that include air, space, automotive, robotics, artificial intelligence and technology that attracts lucrative Department of Defense contracts.

CAT has committed to initially build out at least 1,000,000 square feet of commercial and industrial space using union labor, but plans call for a more extensive build out during subsequent phases. 

In attracting technology innovators one cannot overstate the importance of such an “umbrella” campus. Dr. Anthony Tether, who served as director of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) for eight years, has personally endorsed the CAT proposal. He observed, “Smart people working on revolutionary ideas will attract other smart people with their revolutionary ideas. And as in the Bay Area in the early 70s, this location could become the Silicon Valley of Long Island.”

These observations come from a former director of national intelligence for the office of the Secretary of Defense who is a winner of the National Intelligence Medal, among other high honors.  He knows the past and the future potential of the Calverton property.

The question now is whether we do, and whether we are prepared to take a long shuttered center of excellence and unleash once more the economic power of research, manufacturing and innovation on Long Island. That answer now resides with the Town of Riverhead.

* Tom Gwynne joined the Flight Test Department in Calverton and spent the next 15 years as a pilot for Grumman’s tactical aircraft production line, test flying the F-14 Tomcat, A-6 Intruder, EA-6B Prowler, among others. In 1989, Tom was appointed Director of Flight Operations at Calverton.

Nationally-recognized aerospace professional joins CAT Team proposing $40 million Calverton purchase

Steve Rodgers, former Boeing and Lockheed Martin executive, brings 30 years of economic development expertise to the team seeking to transform former Navy/Grumman test center

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Riverhead, New York: Steve Rodgers, a former aerospace executive whose award winning economic development efforts in Utah are credited with creating thousands of jobs, has joined Calverton Aviation & Technology (CAT) — a joint venture between Luminati Aerospace and Triple Five Real Estate I, LLC — to strategically advance the manufacturing and innovation potential of the former Navy/Grumman flight test center. CAT is proposing to purchase 1,600 acres of the property from the Town of Riverhead for $40 million.

The addition of Steve Rodgers to the CAT project will strengthen CAT’s mission to create a multimillion-dollar campus of companies working in synergy to create breakthroughs across a broad spectrum of technologies. Luminati Aerospace CEO Daniel Preston stated, “Steve’s work in Utah helped that state to consistently rank as one of the best locations for business in the nation. We’re thrilled to bring his success in highly-skilled job creation to our efforts in Riverhead.”

Rodgers is a recipient of the Utah Governor’s Medal for Science and Technology for his work in generating business growth across STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) industries and for invigorating the regional innovation economy.

Creating the right jobs

Mr. Rodgers stated, “Economic development is not just about creating jobs. It is about creating the right jobs. When I read announcements of jobs being created by some new public works project, I often wonder where the job benefits lie. Sure, there are plenty of construction jobs in the beginning, but where are the jobs that sustain the local economy in the long haul? A properly constructed ecosystem of high, value-added contribution is a great way to leverage the jobs created and to bring about a compounding effect that provides far more economic advantage to the community than `shovel-ready’ jobs or jobs that can only aspire to paying minimum wage rather than providing a sustainable living wage.”

Rodgers has left his mark with companies including Boeing and Lockheed-Martin and has worked on a broad range of aerospace projects. He has a passion for technology that remains inspiring to those around him.

“Long Island has always occupied a special place in aviation history, and I love the idea of using the Calverton Executive Airpark to support an aerospace and technology ecosystem that is essentially a concentrated variation of the one we successfully built in Utah,” said Rodgers. “Helping to create jobs is a noble endeavor, but when the jobs are emotionally satisfying jobs that pay well, you can almost feel the excitement begin to build and spread. That is what I would like to help the CAT team to accomplish at Calverton.”

Former East End Congressman George Hochbrueckner, who drafted the federal law that allowed the Navy to transfer the former Navy owned property to Riverhead, welcomed Rodgers to the project, stating, “CAT offers the potential to return Calverton to the technology driven economic engine it once was. Steve’s credentials demonstrate what is possible when driven people are given the tools to succeed.”

To learn more about CAT and upcoming developments, please visit www.cat.aero


ONCE UPON A TIME...

ENGINEERING EXCELLENCE WAS INVENTED EVERY DAY In THE TOWN OF RIVERHEAD

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From 1969 to 1991, Grumman assembled a total of 712 F-14 Tomcats in Calverton. The F-14 Tomcat, one of the greatest fighter jets the world has ever seen, was deployed to protect our democracy and freedom. Today, Calverton Aviation & Technology LLC, or CAT, is proposing to restore that proud heritage.

Now before the Town of Riverhead is a $40 million offer from CAT to acquire property at the former Navy/ Grumman Test Facility. If the offer is accepted, CAT will use the property to create an ecosystem of public, private, community, and educational institutions focusing on high technology research, development, and manufacturing in aviation and related industries.

This will not only restore Calverton as a center of innovation, but will create numerous quality, high paying jobs and power an economic resurgence that will have an incredibly positive impact on Riverhead’s businesses, schools, community organizations, and cultural institutions.

We are excited by the prospects, and we hope you are too!

To learn more about CAT and its ability to reestablish a legacy of innovation, job creation and economic leadership, please visit our website  at www.CAT.aero or email us at info@CAT.aero