Written by Dagmar Fors Karppi Friday, 02 September 2011 00:00
To mark this year’s nationwide Centennial of Naval Aviation celebrations, Grumman retirees are being sought to attend a Labor Day weekend event to be held Sept. 3, 4, and 5 at Republic Airport in Farmingdale. Northrop Grumman is teaming up with the American Airpower Museum at Republic Airport, to invite those who worked on, flew or built Grumman and Northrop Grumman aircraft to come and help create a video oral history chronicle.
Many Oyster Bay residents worked in the aircraft industry when it was one of the biggest employees on Long Island and there are a great many local connections to the industry.
Gregory Druhak of Centre Island said, “Yes, my dad (George) worked for Grumman. He worked on advanced concepts during space exploration, including research into driving on the moon and a proposed long-stay vehicle called Molab. He had an encounter with LeRoy Grumman over that. He did some design work on the LM control handle, but I think that was on a rotation.
“His early designs of the flight controls for the E-2 (the Hawkeye) early warning aircraft are still being used. That’s the first aircraft he worked on more than 50 years ago and it is still flying off carriers today.
“He was in the project office for the F-14 Tomcat, again working on flight controls. They had major problems with the swing wings on the aircraft that he helped solve.
“I remember right after we moved to Oyster Bay, in December of 1969, the first F-14 crashed at Calverton. Dad was called in to Grumman during Christmas week.”
[Coincidentally, on Wednesday, Aug. 24, as David Huschle, manager of the Maine Maid Inn from 1950 to 1971, was testifying at Town Hall before the Oyster Bay Landmark Preservation Committee, at a hearing to save the Maine Maid Inn he tied the building to Grumman history. He said LeRoy Grumman called him at 2 p.m. one afternoon. “He said they had a tragedy and lost an aircraft but the pilot was okay and asked how late we were open. I said come for dinner and you can stay as long as you want,” said Mr. Huschle. At the end of the hearing the Landmark Preservation Committee voted 5-0 to recommend the application to the town board for landmark status for the Maine Maid Inn. There should be a town board public hearing in the next 90 days on the landmarking.]
Gregory Duhak continued, “Later dad was the project engineer for a proposed vertical take-off and landing version of the A-6 (the Intruder) that was never built.
“There’s a bunch of other stuff, too. TMap (an Army scout robot that never went into production) and other aircraft flight controls. And a story about his being drafted for the Korean War, but Grumman said they needed him as an engineer
“Right now he spends a bunch of time corresponding and talking with Joe Morgan in Florida, an engineer who worked on the original A-6 as well as the early Gulfstream aircraft.
“There’s also Danny Katzenstein in Jericho. For years he used to help the local Boy Scouts and ran an operation that brought truckloads of grapefruit to Long Island for the scouts to sell.
“There’s also Eddie Markow, who did some pioneering studies for the wheels for roving vehicles. NASA has forgotten that such research was ever done and he’s been consulting for them,” said Mr. Druhak, who added that he would send his dad information about the Labor Day Weekend event.
Oyster Bay Town Historian John Hammond said his father Victor Clifford Hammond received his instruction at the Grumman Defense Training School here in Oyster Bay. He said, “It was run by Truman Rogers of Oyster Bay. It trained people to work at Grumman, Republic and Sperry – all the different plants here on Long Island. That’s how a lot of people got started working there.
“They sent buses for Oyster Bay workers to go to Republic and Grumman. There was gas rationing at the time during WWII. The plants were open 24 hours a day.”
“Schools today should train people for those jobs again. There isn’t any pick and shovel training given today,” said Nick DeSantis of East Norwich who spent WWII working on airplane engines in London. He joined the Army to learn how to work on their engines and graduated just when WWII was declared and was immediately a member of the active Army.
Mr. Hammond said his mother, too, worked at Grumman. He said, “She worked in the sheet metal shop. The women worked on the light skins of the aircraft.” He poo-pooed the stories about Rosie the Riveter. He said, however, “Some women worked as ferry pilots. When they finished the planes, they hired women to do that. They were trained to fly the fighter planes. There are some exciting stories there.”
Joshua Stoff, curator of The Cradle of Aviation Museum as well as the unofficial curator of the Oyster Bay Railroad Museum. “That is just because they have no titles. Both are the only transportation museums (of their types) in Nassau County,” he said. Mr. Stoff added to the story of the women’s role as pilots.
He said, “The WASPs transported bombers, fighter planes and every type of plane that was built in the country, and they ferried them across to wherever they were going.
“The Cradle of Aviation has photos, manuals and the actual airplanes on exhibit. Such as Grumman’s Wildcat, Hellcat, and Avenger and Republic’s Thunderbolt. We have about 50 planes, but those are the main WWII airplanes.
“We also have two original lunar modules here.”
Mr. Stoff added, “There is a Grumman History Center, an archive where they keep records and blueprints and things, but it is not open to the public. It is on the grounds of the Grumman site.”
Howie Applegate of Westbury volunteers at the Cradle of Aviation and knows Josh Stoff. Mr. Applegate said he plans to attend the Labor Day Weekend events at Republic Airport. Mr. Applegate said, “I was a mechanical engineer in the aero test model design section. Any airplane that Grumman created at that time we flew in a wind tunnel. I was also involved in display aircraft. When a VIP was going to get a particular model - I did the research to see that it was all proper and the model shop would build the models.
“I also spent my last few years at Grumman designing and flying model airplanes. That was a lousy job but somebody had to do it,” he quipped.
Mr. Applegate volunteers at the Space Museum. “I’m into the restoration of old aircraft, and am a docent there, and do restoration on Wednesdays.”
He said of his job at Grumman, “It was always fun. I can’t say that one day was more fun than another but I had a very enjoyable employment for 24 years.”
Belle Santora remembered that her cousin Dominic Principe worked at Grumman. “So did the wife of attorney John Massa. He was the school attorney before Eddie Robinson. Adeline Massa was doing her duty during the war,” she said.
During the 1960s and 1970s, Jimmy McCormick and Bob Warren of East Norwich used to car pool with several others out to Grumman. After they retired, Mr. Warren moved to North Carolina and is now deceased. Mr. McCormick moved to Portland, Maine to be close to his children, Michael, Kevin, Bonnie and Kathleen who moved there.
John Bruckner of Oyster Bay said of his father Max, “He worked for Grumman during the war. He was a carpenter and was in the maintenance of the buildings. He was born in Westbury. He was a WWI veteran and served in France.”
Mr. Bruckner’s wife Lucy said she knew a lot of women from Oyster Bay who worked for Grumman and was trying to remember some of their names.
John Bruckner remembered one of his best friends, Armando Sale worked for Grumman on the LEM program and was in charge of the Huston program for them. He was a space engineer and now lives in California.
It all goes to prove Oyster Bay is filled with untold stories that are great to hear.