Skydive Long Island closes, making way for high-tech drone company


Those parachuting daredevils hovering over the Long Island Expressway will soon be replaced by high-tech, solar-powered drones. 

Skydive Long Island, which has operated for nearly three decades, has closed for good after its owner sold the Calverton property to a new aerospace company. Ray Maynard, Skydive Long Island’s owner, said he plans to retire due to health reasons, including a case of shingles and a minor stroke, and to spend more time with his family.

“It was time to retire,” he said. “All of these factors came into play, and the opportunity to sell came up, so it finally happened.”

Skydive Long Island closed for the season several weeks earlier than typically as Mr. Maynard prepares to hand over the property to Luminati Aerospace LLC.

He sold his 16.3-acre lot, including a 23,000-square-foot hangar, to the aerospace company, which registered with the New York Department of State in July. This season, Mr. Maynard employed 30 to 35 employees who will now need to seek other jobs, though some of them were seasonal employees.

A representative for Luminati Aerospace could not be reached for comment.

During Thursday’s Riverhead Town Board work session, Supervisor Sean Walter said the company will construct large, solar-powered drones that will fly 60,000 feet above the ground while providing communications to satellites and space stations.

“This is a research and development manufacturing company,” he said. “It will set the stage, in my opinion, for the rest of what happens at EPCAL.”

Town officials already met with Luminati Aerospace to assure the company that necessary permits could be acquired, Mr. Maynard said. The company will attend next week’s work session to iron out more details on use of the 10,000-foot runway at EPCAL, though they are allowed to use Mr. Maynard’s runway permit temporarily.

Mr. Maynard said he was pleased that the company is taking over his space, particularly since it will create construction and technology-sector jobs.

“I don’t think you could have a better fit,” he said. “I think it’s going to be a really big benefit to the Town of Riverhead. The high-tech jobs we’ll have are incredible. The equipment they’re bringing in is the highest-tech stuff in the world.”

Skydive Long Island first opened in 1986. Mr. Maynard purchased his slice of the EPCAL property in 2000. In its 29 years, his business has served “100,000 or more, maybe 200,000” skydivers, he said.

“I started up with one airplane and two parachutes,” Mr. Maynard recalled. “It was very humble beginnings. I thought I was going to buy the business and, in five years, be out with all this money. Now, here we are 29 years later.”

Mr. Maynard was named the News-Review Businessperson of the Year in 2007 for his work in developing his business into a popular destination for all sorts of tourists — and for his commitment to the community through a variety of fundraisers, including one that involved skydivers floating down onto a beach in December during Peconic Bay Medical Center’s “Polar Bear Plunge.”

“He’s a successful businessman with a heart,” said former councilman Ed Densieski in an article deeming Mr. Maynard Businessperson of the Year. “He’s just a good egg who never toots his own horn. He’s always helping somebody.”

Last year, a skydiver was killed and an instructor was critically injured in an accident at the Calverton business. Two skydivers were injured last month after they collided in midair.

Mr. Maynard had planned to build a 44,000-square-foot indoor-skydiving facility next to his hangar. In March 2014, he even received Riverhead Industrial Development Agency tax breaks to do so after substantial public discussion, but he eventually abandoned the project because of its cost.

In retirement, Mr. Maynard plans to remain a Riverhead resident.

“I had an incredibly great career as a skydiving instructor and teacher,” he said. “I have nothing but great things to say about this town. I was here since 2000, and the Town of Riverhead has been incredibly supportive of me and my staff.”

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Photo caption: Skydive Long Island owner Ray Maynard in a 2007 photo at his EPCAL facility. (Barbaraellen Koch file photo)