A secretive aerospace company planning to launch solar-powered drone factory on eastern Long Island has sparked rumors that Facebook may have contracted the firm to beam Internet service to Third World nations.
Luminati Aerospace, which last month bought a 16-acre plot for $3 million from the recently closed Skydive Long Island, is requesting permission from the Town of Riverhead to fly its next-generation drones from a limited-use runway at the Enterprise Park in Calverton known as EPCAL—but remains tight-lipped about the unmanned aircraft it plans to manufacture.
“There’s a confidential nature to our contract and I have to respect the wishes of our client,” Daniel Preston, CEO and chief technology officer for Luminati, told the Riverhead town board Thursday. When reporters pressed him for more information after the meeting, he said the company “is not at liberty to discuss” details or reveal their client other than to say they’re commercial and not military.
Facebook did not respond to a request to confirm or deny whether they hired Luminati, but the social media company has reportedly been developing similar large solar-powered drones—circling the planet at 60,000 to 90,000 feet, above commercial aircraft traffic—to expand Internet service to vast unconnected parts of the world. Google, which reportedly has a similar plan using balloons, did not respond, either.
Despite the limited information available—even Luminati’s website is only one page with no links or contact information, just a photo of an antique astrology-style sketch of the sun—officials spoke highly of the company, which derives its name from the ancient secret society The Illuminati.
“It’s so exciting to think that once again we may be on the forefront of aviation,” Riverhead Town Supervisor Sean Walter said, referring to Grumman’s storied history at the site and the many firsts in flight that earned LI the nickname, The Cradle of Aviation. “This is the biggest thing that’s happening on Long Island right now.”
Preston echoed the sentiment. Although there is little known about the project, what is clear is that the plan is only in its infancy. Should the town board approve Luminati’s request to use one of two runways at the industrial park, the company also plans to ask for permission to expand a building at the site to fit manufacturing equipment too large for the current facility.
Preston noted that the electric-powered drones neither burn fuel nor have the same deafening roar as standard aircraft, so the impact on neighbors and the environment should be minimal.
“By aviation standards, or by any standards…we are very quiet operation and very green in nature,” he said.
If approved, it would take an estimated six months to build the plant. In the meantime, Preston said the company’s leadership is moving to Riverhead and accepting applications for about 40 designers, machinists and other workers. Walter said he hopes to approve the runway agreement by Nov. 4.
The news came shortly after Suffolk County lawmakers passed the first legislation on LI regulating small consumer drones, with other local municipalities and the Federal Aviation Administration considering similar regulations. Small drone sightings reported to local authorities saw a fivefold increase so far this year over all of last year on LI, the Press exclusively reported last month.
A public hearing on the runway agreement proposal will be held 7 p.m. Tues., Oct. 20 at Riverhead Town Hall, 200 Howell Rd., Riverhead.