History of the Farmingdale-Bethpage Region
Long Island is well known as one of the early centers of aviation in
this country and in fact the world. Roosevelt Field, for example,
from where Charles Lindburgh departed for his dramatic flight to
Paris in 1927 was the busiest airport in the world during the early
1930’s. The Cradle of Aviation Museum, located at Mitchell Field
was so named for a good reason. But less well known to most outside
of the Farmingdale-Bethpage area and even some living in its midst
is the important role played by this local area in the history of
Some of the names associated with that history include: Lawrence
Sperry, Alexander De Seversky, Sherman Fairchild and Leroy Grumman.
They are only the most famous. Many others were involved in various
roles which included providing the parts and materials to help build
the planes that others had designed.
Lawrence Sperry was the son of Elmer Sperry, inventor and founder of
the Sperry Gyroscope Company. Lawrence took after his dad as an
inventor and demonstrated the first autopilot by coupling gyroscopes
into a Curtis B-2 aircraft and stunning onlookers at a 1914 air show
in France. He was an outstanding pilot but was rejected by the Army
Air Force at the outbreak of World War I because he didn’t have a
college degree. At the end of WW I Sperry designed and built a sport
plane called the Sperry Messenger. General Billy Mitchell was
impressed by the design and ordered a dozen which were built by the
Lawrence Sperry Aircraft Company of Farmingdale. A total of 42
Messengers were ultimately built. A model of one resides in the
Cradle of Aviation museum at Mitchell Field. Lawrence Sperry died
at age 31 in an airplane crash over the English Channel.
Sherman Fairchild lent his name to many companies within the New
York metropolitan area and elsewhere. However, his first love was
photography and aerial photography in particular. In 1920 he
started the Fairchild Aerial Camera Corporation to build cameras.
With that company he entered into the mapmaking and surveying
fields. He quickly realized that improved aircraft were required to
take better advantage of his cameras. In 1925 he formed
Farmingdale-based Fairchild Airplane Manufacturing Corporation. The
first aircraft produced there were the Fairchild FC-1 and FC-2.
Perhaps the longest lasting of the Fairchild enterprises that still
resides in Farmingdale is Republic Field which is one of the busiest
airports in the state. It was originally called Fairchild Flying
Field and was developed in 1927. Aircraft manufactured by
Fairchild, De Seversky and Grumman were tested there.
Alexander De Seversky was the top Russian World War I naval aviation
ace. The Russian revolution began while he was in the United States
studying aircraft design and manufacturing. He decided to stay here
and became a US citizen in 1927. After creating many inventions and
working with leaders in the field of aviation he attracted the
backing of investors and in 1931 formed Seversky Aircraft
Corporation located in Farmingdale. The company developed the first
modern fighter which appeared in 1935. It was the P-35 and was the
forerunner of the famed World War II P-47 manufactured by Republic
Aviation. The company sustained serious financial losses under
Seversky and he was deposed. The company was reorganized as
Republic Aviation in October 1939.
P-47 was designed by another Russian émigré, Alexander Kartveli who
had worked very closely with Seversky. It was one of the top
fighter aircraft of WW II. Well over ten thousand were produced.
The company produced other successful fighter planes including the
F-84 which was used in Korea and the F-105 which was used
extensively in Vietnam. At the time of the Korean War, Republic was
the largest producer of jet fighters in the western world. The
F-105 was Republic’s last independent design. Republic Aviation was
acquired by the Fairchild-Hiller Corporation in 1965.
1929 at the outset of the depression, Roy Grumman, Jack Swirbul and
Bill Schwendler were working for Loening Aircraft Engineering
Company. When the company was taken over and planned to move to
Pennsylvania, the three decided to start their own aircraft
manufacturing corporation. With a little venture capital and some
of their own money they formed the Grumman Aircraft engineering
company. The first employees reported for work in January 1930.
The company started by repairing Loening aircraft and then the
manufacture of aluminum truck bodies. In 1931 the company got its
first contract to build an aircraft. It was a navy contract for a
single fighter aircraft designated the XFF-1.
company started in Baldwin, Long Island. After a brief stay it moved
to Valley Stream and then in 1932 to Farmingdale. By April of 1937
they were no longer leasing, but had bought their own site in
During World War II, Grumman was the major producer of aircraft for
the navy. Factories operated 24 hours a day and produced more
military aircraft than any other company during the war. The
workhorse for the navy during the first year and a half of WW II was
the Grumman F4F Wildcat. It was the first aircraft to have folding
wings which allowed for compact storage aboard aircraft carriers. A
more sophisticated airplane than the F4F but one modeled on the F4F
was the F6F Hellcat. It was designed specifically to defeat the
Japanese Zero. The company produced over 12,000 Hellcats during the
war, the largest number of fighters ever made in a single aircraft
Grumman went on to design and build other important aircraft. One
which many Long Islanders still residing on Long Island worked on
and remember fondly is the US Navy’s F-14 Tomcat. It reigned
supreme as a Navy fighter from 1974 when it was introduced until its
retirement in September 2006.
Another major contribution from Long Islanders and the Grumman
Corporation came in the form of the Lunar Excursion Module (LEM).
LEM carried astronaut Neil Armstrong on the historic United States
1969 first ever moon landing. It also participated in the rescue of
the Apollo 13 crew in their attempt at a moon rendezvous in April
1970. The story was made into a major motion picture in 1995.
Before being merged into the Northrop Corporation in 1994, Grumman designed and built the Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System (JSTARS). While in pre-production testing in 1991, the aircraft was deployed to participate in Operation Desert Storm. The system was able to accurately track mobile Iraqi forces, including tanks and Scud missiles. JSTARS is programmed to be used until 2025.
The history of aviation on Long Island and Farmingdale-Bethpage is remarkable. Much of this long and varied history is available not only for viewing, but for lively stories and anecdotes by people at these companies who actually lived the history at two wonderful museums within easy commuting distance. These are The Cradle of Aviation Museum (www.cradleofaviation.org) and the American Airpower Museum (www.americanairpowermuseum.com). The latter is actually in one of the Republic Aviation hangers where the P-47 fighter was assembled.
For additional information and photographs, the following sites are of interest:
Fairchild FC-2 Assembly Plant at Farmingdale
Republic F-105 Assembly Plant at Farmingdale
Grumman F-6-F Hellcat
Sperry Messenger Specifications
All Photos above
Cradle of Aviation Museum, Garden City, Long Island
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