By GREGORY ZELLER //
An aerospace company looking to make a splash in the emerging field of solar-powered flight has reached back through the decades to power up an ambitious new division.
Over the last year, Calverton-based Luminati Aerospace has gobbled up entire helicopter-manufacturing firms, and key assets from several other rotor-based companies, including Gyrodyne LLC (formerly Gyrodyne Company of America) and Rotor Flight Dynamics. These acquisitions of companies, designs and manufacturing rights are the vertical thrust behind Luminati VTOL, a rotor-craft division focused on the creation and production of new manned and unmanned vehicles.
Luminati has not discriminated, snatching up everything from coaxial-rotor tech (two rotors spinning in opposite directions) to compound helicopter designs (traditional rotor-supported flight boosted by need-for-speed jet thrusters). The big picture: a plethora of commercial and defense applications, kickstarted by the acquisition of helicopter technologies ranging from old-school to next-gen.
Far from shifting emphasis away from the innovative company’s dreams of perpetual stratospheric flight, Luminati VTOL is meant to complement the solar-powered, fixed-wing efforts, according to Luminati founder and CEO Daniel Preston, who trumpeted the rotor-craft division is an example of his startup fulfilling its greater destiny.
“Some people think of us as the solar-airplane company, but the reality is, we are an R&D and manufacturing company, and have been from Day One,” Preston told Innovate LI. “The solar plane was meant to be a high-visibility project that would show off our capabilities – but it’s by no means our only capability.”
And even though the new division is wholly separate from efforts to perfect and manufacture Luminati’s groundbreaking, solar-powered Substrata VO, there’s a “clear synergy” in pursuing manned and unmanned rotor-powered flight, according to the entrepreneur.
“We’re setting up an aviation-manufacturing hub in Calverton,” Preston noted. “And the more aerospace infrastructure we put in place in New York, the better for every company involved.”
With Luminati and East Rutherford-based Triple Five Worldwide Group, Luminati’s partner in new LLC Calverton Aviation & Technology, locked in a perpetual dogfight with the Town of Riverhead over plans to acquire 1,600 acres of town-owned land at Calverton Enterprise Park for $40 million, Preston’s aerospace firm is indeed spreading its wings across New York.
Last week, Luminati completed the relocation of a recently acquired manufacturing division of Rotor Flight Dynamics from Florida to upstate Little Falls. While those jobs might have landed in Calverton, had negotiations with the town proceeded more smoothly, Preston noted several positives in the Little Falls move, including his prior ownership of a facility in the small Herkimer County city – “ideal for the rotor-blade company,” he said – and the 2014 relocation of firearms manufacturer Remington Outdoor Co., which moved production lines from the nearby Village of Ilion to gun-friendlier Alabama.
That left “an excellent talent pool of skilled machinists behind,” Preston noted. “And the extended delay in obtaining Riverhead’s approval of CAT’s acquisition of EPCAL has caused a lot of uncertainty.
“I could not wait forever to decide where to locate the business and jobs,” he added. “I hope the town’s approval is obtained before I have to decide where to locate the other helicopter-related businesses we have acquired.”
While the acquisition of helicopter technologies that have been in service for decades may seem like backward thinking, precisely the opposite is true, according to Preston, who trumpeted both the proven benefits of the established technologies and their potential contributions to futuristic unmanned aerial vehicles.
Gyrodyne models that faithfully serviced military masters for most of the 20th century – primarily as anti-submarine warfare assets and in the transportation of dangerous, often nuclear payloads – and Rotor Flight Dynamics rotor blades considered the “gold standard” of such components may appear to have outlived their usefulness, Preston noted, but they’re actually blueprints for the next generation of autonomous flight.
“There’s logic to what we’ve been acquiring,” he added. “They can all do things that regular helicopters can’t.”
And even as negotiations with Riverhead drag on, the CEO expressed optimism about his long-circling Calverton plan – particularly in light of Triple Five’s acquisition of the former Dowling College campus in Shirley, where a $2 million renovation plan has been supported by the Brookhaven Industrial Development Agency in the form of a generous tax-abatement package.
Preston and his CAT partners envision the reworked campus as a major component of a new “aerospace corridor,” flying in tight formation with the nearby EPCAL facility – and the endorsement of the Brookhaven IDA is a major step in the right direction, according to the entrepreneur.
“I think it’s fabulous,” Preston said. “We’re sinking heavy roots in New York and setting up an aviation ecosystem that’s going to improve every company involved.”