Luminati to debut made-on-LI solar plane

Luminati CEO Daniel Preston (left), chief pilot Rob Lutz and the V0 Substrata. (Photo courtesy of General Aviation News)

The first aircraft to be designed and built in Calverton since Grumman Aerospace Corp. went wheels-up more than 22 years ago is scheduled to make its public debut Friday.

The V0 Substrata – a piloted, single-seat electric “motorglider” – is expected to perform flight demonstrations after an official unveiling at Luminati Aerospace’s headquarters, the former Grumman Naval Base test facility in Calverton.

In 2015, Luminati Aerospace moved in and announced a $50 million investment to turn the former Grumman Aerospace site, abandoned after Northrop Corp. acquired Grumman in 1994, into a hotbed of aeronautical R&D.

Incorporated in April 2015 in Delaware and registered as a New York LLC in July, Luminati Aerospace is now deep into design and testing at its skunk-works site, although CEO Daniel Preston – an entrepreneurial engineer who holds more than 100 patents, many involving flight systems – and his crew have remained excessively tightlipped about Luminati’s operations and plans.

The biggest news to come out of the Calverton facility this year involved the arrest of two men who were charged with trespassing after landing a single-engine plane at the site without permission.

Filling the hard-news gaps have been many rumors about Luminati Aerospace’s work at the ex-Grumman site, including a persistent rumor that Luminati is developing solar-powered Unmanned Aerial Vehicles for use by a major telecommunications company. In October 2015, Preston told Innovate LI he was bound to “respect the confidential nature of this program and our client,” noting a “proprietary aspect” to the company’s Calverton operations.

The CEO has assembled a dream team of aerospace masterminds for the work, including a who’s-who of former Northrop Grumman and Raytheon engineers. Friday’s big debut will showcase what the team has been working on since Luminati Aerospace acquired the assets of a former skydiving school in Calverton and officially began leasing the ex-Grumman facility’s 10,000-foot runway from Riverhead Town last summer.

Although the company is characteristically mum about the V0 Substrata and its purpose, a General Aviation News report notes the 27-horsepower motorglider is a quarter-scale model illuminating Luminati Aerospace’s solar-electric progress. The V0 Substrata, which boasts wing-mounted solar cells, is reported to have a 43-foot wingspan, a 200-nautical-mile range and an altitude limit of 28,000 feet.

A Luminati Aerospace release promoting Friday’s event notes the Luminati team is “focused on perpetual, solar electric flight in the stratosphere” and looking to develop “a platform for commercial, Internet and government ISR (for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance) operations.”

Preston’s startup has also formed a joint venture with Great Neck-based SeaMax America, manufacturer of the M-22 amphibious aircraft. The venture aims to bring large-scale manufacturing of SeaMax’s popular “flying boat” to Calverton.

Friday’s invitation-only event is scheduled to include displays of historic made-on-Long Island aircraft and dedications by Cradle of Aviation Museum Director Andrew Parton, Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, Long Island Association President Kevin Law and other dignitaries.

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