|Grumman Historical Center|
Long Island played an important role in the history of aviation and space. Many of the early flights took place at Roosevelt Field on the Hempstead Plains in the middle of Nassau County. The plains, which were a flat grassland prairie about sixteen miles long and four miles wide, were the perfect flying field. It was considered the best airfield in the United States.
From the beginning of aviation in the 1900's until the present, aviation technology has advanced tremendously. Long Islanders have been major contributors in this movement. The Grumman Corporation, located in Bethpage, was a major supplier of military aircraft during World Wars I and II. Grumman also built the first Lunar Module which was sent to the moon. Charles Lindbergh took off from Roosevelt Field on his historic flight to Paris.
In October of 1911, the Nassau Boulevard Airfield in Garden City was the sight of the Second International Air Meet. It was quite significant since it involved the first official airmail flight. A temporary post office was set up, and pilot Earle Ovington carried mailbags on his lap and dropped them over the side of his monoplane to a post in Mineola. Hence, airmail was born.
The space race began in the late 1950's and early 1960's when the Soviet spaceship Sputnik explored the moon. A worried President John F. Kennedy announced his plans for landing a man on the moon by 1970.
In 1962, NASA announced that Grumman had won the contract to build the Lunar Module for Project Apollo, which was the spacecraft that would take Americans to the moon. Unlike earlier spacecraft, the Lunar Module (LM) only operated outside the earth's atmosphere --- in a vacuum --- and never went through any air. That is why it was such an odd-shaped spacecraft. The LM was designed to keep two men alive on the moon and get them there and back. It had to be small enough to fit inside the huge Saturn V rocket and light enough to be launched into space.
At the peak of activity in the mid-1960's, Grumman had 9,000 people working on the LM project. Unlike aircraft, the LMs were not produced on an assembly line. Each one was hand made, one at a time. In all, it took two and a half years to build each LM. During the course of the Apollo program, Grumman produced twelve operational Lunar Modules.
On July 20, 1969, Apollo XI, with the Lunar Module Eagle, landed astronauts Neil Armstrong and Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin on the moon's "Sea of Tranquility." In the words of Armstrong, it was "One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind." President Kennedy's goal had been accomplished. The first men on the moon landed in a spacecraft built by Long Islanders.
In 1919, Raymond Orteig, a wealthy New York hotel owner, offered a prize of $25,000 for the first nonstop aircraft flight from New York to Paris. The first attempt ended in disaster. However, this did not stop transatlantic attempts. Roosevelt Field became the headquarters for those willing to dare the unknown.
A young airmail pilot, Charles A. Lindbergh, flying a Ryan monoplane named the Spirit of St. Louis, arrived on Long Island in May of 1927. At 7:52 a.m. on a rainy May 20, 1927, Lindbergh took off, heading east on the muddy runway of Roosevelt Field. After a long flight, the exhausted Lindbergh landed at Le Bourget Field, near Paris, on May 21 at 10:21 p.m.. Thousands of cheering people had gathered to meet him. He had flown more than 3,600 miles in a single-engine plane with no radio and no parachute.Lindbergh Movie
No area in America had more of an impact on World War II than Long Island. This was the first war won primarily in the air, and two Long Island companies, Grumman (of Bethpage) and Republic Aviation (of Farmingdale) deserved much of the credit.
With the increased use of the aircraft carrier, Grumman focused its production on low-level propeller planes capable of taking off with short distance runways. They came up with three planes that would rewrite history: the Wildcat, the Hellcat, and the Avenger. The Hellcat, known for turning the tides in the air war, accounted for 5,155 confirmed kills out of the Navy's total of 6,477 in just two years of service. Republic built over 9000 Thunderbolt planes during the war.
With the invention of jets at the end of World War II, Grumman quickly pioneered the field in the United States. With earlier experiments resulting in failure, and a majority of government contracts being awarded to McDonnel-Douglas in California, Grumman had to hit the jackpot or risk bankruptcy. They produced the A-6 Intruder, a capable flight-deck bomber that impressed the Navy. Grumman continued production of the Intruder as well as new planes, like the F-14 Tomcat (featured in the movie Top Gun), the E-2C Hawkeye, and the EA-6B Prowler.
The end of the Cold War in the late 1980's meant the government would be spending less on planes and weapons. The result was a decrease in the size of all military contractors, including Grumman. In the 1990's Grumman was purchased by the Northrup Corporation and is now known as Northrup-Grumman.Go Back to Main Menu