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Grumman

Mankind walked on the moon, a few locals helped us get there

The Earth as seen by Apollo astronauts over the horizon of the moon. Photo from NASA

They named it Apollo. Though the moniker has become synonymous with human achievement, a scientific milestone, the merging of a collective national conscience, the Greek god Apollo was known for many things, but the moon was not one of them. If scientists had to choose, there was the Titan Selene, or perhaps Artemis or Hecate, all Greek gods with connection to the great, gray orb in the night’s sky.

Abe Silverstein, NASA’s director of Space Flight Programs, proposed the name, and he did so beyond the surface of using a well-known god of the pantheon. In myth, Apollo was the sky charioteer, dragging Helios, the Titan god of the sun, in an elliptical high over humanity’s head.

If anything was going to bring humanity to the moon, it would be Apollo. 

Despite this, it wasn’t a myth that allowed man to take his first steps on the moon, it was humankind. Billions of dollars were spent by companies across the nation, working hand in hand with NASA to find a way to make it into space. Here on Long Island, the Bethpage-based Grumman Corporation worked to create the lunar module, the insect-looking pod that would be the first legs to test its footing on the moon’s surface.

Thousands worked on the lunar module, from engineers to scientists to accountants to everyone in between. 

Half a century later some of these heroes of science, engineers and other staff, though some may have passed, are still around on the North Shore to continue their memories.

Pat Solan — Port Jefferson Station

By Kyle Barr

Pat Solan of Port Jefferson Station can still remember her late husband, Mike, back when the U.S. wanted nothing more than to put boots far in the sky, on the rotating disk of the moon.

Pat Solan holds a photo of her with husband Mike. Photo by Kyle Barr

Mike worked on the Apollo Lunar Module at Grumman Aircraft Engineering Corporation in Bethpage, where he was at the head of several projects including mock-ups of the pod and working on its landing gear. He can be seen in a movie presented by NASA as workers create a scale diorama of the surface of the moon, craters and all.

“The space program was important — people don’t realize it was a huge endeavor,” she said.

Pat met her husband in Maryland when she was only 21. Mike had worked with military aviation projects all over the country, but the couple originally thought they would end up moving to California. Instead, one of Mike’s friends invited him to come to Long Island to try an interview with Grumman. Needless to say, he got the job. The couple would live in Port Jefferson for two years before moving to Setauket. 

Pat said her husband always had his eye on the sky. Aviation was his dream job, and she remembered how he was “thrilled to pieces” to step into the cockpit of a Grumman F-14 Tomcat.

Mike would be constantly working, so much that during those years of development on the module she would hardly see him at home. 

A model of the lunar module owned by the Solan family. Photo from Rolin Tucker

“He was working double shifts and he was going in between Calverton and Bethpage,” she said. “I hardly saw him at all.”

But there were a few perks. Solan and her husband would see many astronauts as Grumman brought them in to test on the simulators. She met several of the early astronauts, but perhaps the most memorable of them was Russell “Rusty” Schweickart, all due to his quick wit and his outgoing personality compared to the stauncher, military-minded fellow astronauts. Schweickart would be pilot on the Apollo 9 mission, the third crewed space mission that would showcase the effectiveness of the lunar module, testing systems that would be critical toward the future moon landing.

She, along with Mike, would also go down to Cape Canaveral, Florida, and there she was allowed to walk in the silo. Standing underneath the massive girders, it was perhaps the most impressive thing she has ever seen in her life. 

“It was absolutely mind-boggling — it was very impressive,” she said. “I can still remember that. I was stricken.” 

On the day of the landing, July 20, 1969, Pat was hosting a party to watch the dramatic occasion at her home, then in Setauket. It could have barely been a more auspicious day, as she had just given birth to her daughter Rolin July 8.

Eventually, Mike would have multiple strokes through the late 1970s and ’80s, and the stress of it would cause him to retire in 1994. He died a few years later.

“He really felt he was not capable of doing presentations to the government anymore,” she said.

Mike Solan. Photo from Pat Solan

But being so close to the work tied to getting man into space has left an impression on her. Herself being an artist, having sold paintings, both landscapes and impressionistic, along with photography and felt sculptures, the effort of the people who put a human on the moon showed her the extent of human and American achievement. 

“It was a time of such cooperation — I think it’s sad we don’t see that now,” she said.

Despite current events, she said she still believes the U.S. can achieve great things, though it will take a concerted effort.

“People have to move outside their own persona,” she added. “People are too wrapped up, everything is centered on oneself instead of a bigger picture, the whole.” 

Joseph Marino — Northport

By Donna Deedy

Fifty years ago, on July 20, 1969, man walked on the surface of the moon.  

Joseph Marino in front of the LM replica at the Cradle of Aviation Museum. Photo from Marino

Northport resident Joseph Marino spent 10 years on the Apollo mission as a Grumman systems engineer, involved from the very beginning of the project in 1962 to the last landing on the moon. He still finds the achievement remarkable.

“It was the most exciting program — the peak of my career — no question,” he said. “I couldn’t have been more pleased with the results of such a successful project.” 

Marino oversaw the design of the systems for the Lunar Excursion Module (LEM), as it was originally known, and managed 300 engineers and also psychologists who were needed to work out the man/machine interface that dictated equipment design, such as visual display systems the crew relied upon during precarious moments of landing and docking.

An error in timing, particularly during landing, he said, could be disastrous. 

“Astronauts are the coolest characters capable of handling any situation imaginable,” Marino said. “It’s crucial for the crew to know when you make contact with the surface, so they know when to shut off the engine.”  

The team ultimately created an alert system with red flashing lights wired to 3- to 4-foot-long probes positioned on the module’s landing gear.

The most dramatic, awe-inspiring moment of all during the Apollo missions, Marino said, was when the astronauts witnessed the Earth rising above the horizon of the moon’s cratered landscape. The event was memorialized in what has become an iconic photo that most people today have seen. Marino cherishes that shot. 

NASA’s moon mission has been an endless source of inspiration for mankind. In fact, people can thank the space program for popularizing inventions big and little. Computers, very primitive versions of what are popular today, were first used by NASA. Velcro, Marino said, was also invented during the Apollo program and later became broadly popular.

Joseph Marino in front of the LM replica at the Cradle of Aviation Museum. Photo from Marino

Looking back, now that 50 years have passed, Marino said it’s disturbing to him that there’s been such a wide gap in time since the last moon landing and today. 

He recently spoke to his granddaughter’s high school class and told them, “Not only did man walk on the surface of the moon before you were born, likely it occurred before your parents were born.” 

The bond Marino has developed with his aerospace colleagues has lasted a lifetime.  Each month, he still meets with a dozen co-workers for lunch at the Old Dock Inn in Kings Park. 

For the 50th anniversary, Marino says that he’s been enjoying the special programming on PBS. He recommends its three-part series called “Chasing the Moon.” 

Frank Rizzo — Melville

By Rita J. Egan

For Frank Rizzo, his experience of working on the Apollo program while a Grumman employee was more about dollars and cents.

Grumman workers at Plant 5 Clean Room watching Apollo 11 landing

Rizzo, 85, was with the aerospace engineering company for 33 years. While he retired as a vice president, in the years leading up to the moon landing, he was an accounting manager with the Grumman lunar module program. The Melville resident said it was an exciting time at Grumman.

Work, he said, began on the project a few years before Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin took the first steps on the moon. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration established a work package budgeting system with Grumman, and Rizzo, who lived in Dix Hills at the time, said he was responsible for giving the team in the Houston space center the monthly estimate to complete the actual expenditures from an external point of view and also determine profit and loss from an internal point of view.

Rizzo and his co-workers traveled to Houston frequently to review the program with NASA to give the current status from the financial, engineering and manufacturing viewpoints, though sometimes the meetings took place on Long Island. The former accounting manager said many times stand-up meetings were held due to the theory that people become too comfortable when they sit, and stand-up meetings enable for more to get done in less time.

Rizzo said he remembers the original contract, signed in the latter part of 1962, to be valued around $415 million at first. He likened the project to building a house, where it evolves over the years. Revisions come along, and just like one might choose to move a door or window, the budget would need to change regularly.

“When they discovered something from an engineering viewpoint, they had to change the manufacturing scope and materials,” he said.

Rizzo said an example of a significant change was when Gus Grissom, Ed White and Roger B. Chaffee were killed in a cabin fire during a launch rehearsal test in 1967. The trio would have been the first crew to take part in the first low Earth orbital test. Due to the horrific incident, a change was made to ensure all material within the lunar module was fireproof.

“That was a major change,” he said. “That entitled us to additional funds to put new materials in it. So those things happened quite frequently — a change to the contract.”

When all was said and done, Rizzo said the contract value between NASA and Grumman totaled more than $2 billion.

Grumman workers at Plant 5 Clean Room watching Apollo 11 landing. Photo from Cradle of Aviation Museum

During the project, Rizzo said many members of the press would come to visit the Grumman office, including Walter Cronkite who anchored “CBS Evening News” at the time.

“Here was a little place on Long Island being responsible for the actual vehicle that landed on the moon,” he said.

Since the moon landing, Rizzo said seeing similar NASA activities like the Space Shuttle program haven’t been as exciting as the Apollo program.

“A lot of people said it was a waste of money, but that money was spent here for jobs, and many of the things that we got out of the research and development, like cellphones or GPS, and so forth, the basic research and development came out of that NASA program back in the ’60s and ’70s,” he said.

Long Islanders can be particularly proud on July 20, as Americans celebrate the 50th anniversary of the first human steps taken on the moon by Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin. Many of the men and women who once worked at the Grumman Corporation in Bethpage, right here on Long Island, played a significant part in the project.

The aerospace engineering company, now known as Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems, was integral in the design, assembly, integration and testing of the lunar module used in the Apollo 11 mission. In fact, by 1969 approximately 9,000 people, according to the Cradle of Aviation Museum in Garden City, were working on the project. This team included 3,000 engineers, scientists, mathematicians and supporting technical personnel.

We owe a lot to the men and women of Grumman who played a part in the Apollo 11 mission and all lunar landing missions that followed. One small step for man led to giant leaps in technology. Among the technological advances to emerge from the Apollo missions, according to NASA’s website, is the AID implantable automatic pulse generator. Using Apollo technology, it monitors the heart continuously, recognizes the onset of a heart attack and delivers a corrective electrical shock. Developed by the company Medrad, it consists of a microcomputer, a power source and two electrodes that sense heart activity. When medically necessary, the product is available as an implant today.

Many Grumman employees still live on Long Island, and when our editors started asking friends and social media connections if they knew anyone who worked on the moon mission, we were surprised at how easy it was to find these people who worked on the lunar module or LM. One editor sat on the board of a nonprofit with one of the people we feature in this edition, and she never knew he played a role in such a historic event.

During this milestone anniversary, we hope our readers will take the opportunity to ask around and find out if anyone knows a family member or friend who worked on the mission. Their stories are interesting, and, as they are now in their 70s and 80s, we hope their memories will be passed down to not only family and friends, but to everyone. 

Imagine, just a little more than 50 years ago it was unfathomable that humans could put a person on the moon, but Americans did. The mission reminds us of what a group of people working in various fields can collectively accomplish. If we can put a man on the moon, maybe one day we’ll be able to figure out how to put an end to hunger even with a food surplus, cure cancer and convert our fuel economy to alternative, clean forms of energy.

Let’s remember that dreams do come true. What once seemed impossible was achieved. The spirit that captured our country enabled men and women to work together towards a common goal. 

With a common belief in ourselves as Americans, such a thing can happen again.

By Daniel Dunaief

It’s an opportunity for a reunion, a celebration of a major employer on Long Island, and a chance to recognize the role residents played in a landmark achievement from the 1960s all rolled into one exhibition.

Kicking off tonight with a discussion and reception, the Port Jefferson Village Center will present an exhibit titled Grumman on Long Island, A Photographic Tribute featuring photographs and memorabilia from Grumman. The company, which became part of Northrop Grumman in 1994, started in 1929 and was involved in everything from the design of F-14 fighter jets to the lunar excursion module that carried astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin to the surface of the moon 50 years ago this July.

Sponsored by Port Jefferson Harbor Education & Arts Conservancy, the exhibition will run through February. Port Jefferson Village Historian Chris Ryon will kick off the evening and John Hiz, who is the Belle Terre village historian, will serve as the master of ceremonies.

Special guests include former Grumman employees Vinny DeStefano, vice president of manufacturing; Hank Janiesch, vice president (F-14 Program); Rodger Schafer, technical adviser; Joe “Ruggs” Ruggerio, director of electronic warfare; Harold Sheprow, a flight test manager and former mayor of Port Jefferson; Jim Reynolds Sr., an ILS engineer; and Cmdr. Jim Roth, a combat pilot and aviation test pilot who was an instructor for the first Grumman A-6 Intruder squadron.

The exhibition boasts approximately 100 photos, which former Grumman employees provided to celebrate the company’s legacy. “People are coming in every day with boxes,” said Ryon in a recent interview.

In addition to the photos, the exhibition includes a test pilot helmet and several models that are 1/10th the scale of planes, including the X29, an F-14 and the Hawkeye.

“We are anticipating a huge turnout for this exhibit,” said Margot Garant, the mayor of Port Jefferson. “Grumman was an important economic engine for Long Island.” The aerospace company attracted many people to Long Island, Garant said, and she expects that many of them will visit the exhibit to share their experiences with former co-workers. The mayor said Ryon and Hiz have received a “massive response from people” who are proud of their role at the company.

Grumman designed and produced the lunar module that helped Capt. Jim Lovell, Fred Haise and Jack Swigert return safely from the troubled Apollo 13 mission. “We have [pictures of] Apollo 13 astronauts speaking to Grumman employees,” Ryon said.

When he was bobbing up and down after returning to Earth, Lovell recognized that Grumman helped save their lives, Hiz said. “That was a defining moment in what it meant to fly a Grumman aircraft, which was reliable, rugged and dependable,” he added.

Grumman alumni also shared their appreciation for the way the company treated them, including the yearly picnic complete with carnival rides and providing turkeys to their families during Christmas and Thanksgiving. “What’s really hit me is the emotional response people have when they talk about Grumman,” said Ryon.

Reynolds, who worked at Grumman for 40 years and retired in 2005, said the exhibit highlights all the vehicles that were tested and the ones that landed on the moon, adding he appreciated how management cared for the people who worked at the company. 

He recalled how he put his youngest son John Thomas Reynolds into the cockpit of an F-14 and told him not to touch anything. Reynolds asked his technicians to run the gear and fold the wings in and out. His son was so excited that his “eyes were tremendous,” Reynolds recalls. “For a young boy, it was really quite an experience.” 

A resident of Selden for 52 years, Reynolds said he recently ran into Vinny DeStefano, a former Grumman manager and the two former co-workers “shook hands for about an hour.”

The exhibit will also feature a test pilot section, which contains stories from Amy Tuttle, the program director at the Greater Port Jefferson-North Brookhaven Arts Council, whose father Bruce was a test pilot. Tuttle had to ditch his plane in 1951 outside of Port Jefferson Harbor (see sidebar).

Through several decades when Grumman employed over 20,000 people on Long Island, the company and the area were inextricably intertwined. “There was probably not a day that went by during the period prior to 1994 that you weren’t faced with” a Grumman connection, said Hiz, whether on WALK radio advertisements or seeing trucks on the Long Island Expressway.

Hiz described Grumman as being at the apex of the nation’s defense for so many years. At its heyday, Grumman built 70 percent of all the aircraft that flew from aircraft carriers, Hiz said. Part of what made Grumman so effective was the way the company designed each vehicle like a Swiss watch. 

“They created these fantastic flying machines with their hands. Most of the machinery, they had to build from day one,” said Hiz, adding that the work ethic of the employees and the ability to promote from within added to its resourcefulness.

Reynolds took “great pride in what I did on the program,” he said. He started as a technician in 1965 and received numerous awards, including a 10-day trip to Hawaii that he took with his wife.

“Don’t underestimate how important Grumman was to these guys who worked there and women that worked there,” Tuttle added. “They were incredibly devoted to the company. It was a corporation which was pretty unusual even then.”

The Port Jefferson Village Center, 101A East Main St., Port Jefferson will present Grumman on Long Island, A Photographic Tribute on its second- and third-floor galleries through Feb. 28. An opening reception will be held tonight, Jan. 10, from 6 to 9 p.m. with entertainment by Jazzopedia, a Grumman video tribute and light fare. For more information, call 631-802-2160. 

Sidebar:

Test pilot Bruce Tuttle brought ‘The Right Stuff’ to Long Island

By Daniel Dunaief

Bruce Tuttle

“The Right Stuff,” a phrase made famous by the late Tom Wolfe book about fighter pilots and astronauts, also thrived on Long Island.

On Dec. 10, 1951, Navy test pilot Bruce Tuttle took an F9S to varying altitudes, where he was asked to turn off the engine and then turn it back on. At 5,000 feet, everything worked as it should. Doubling that to 10,000 caused no problems. It wasn’t until 30,000 feet that the plane refused to reignite, causing a flame out.

Needing to ditch the plane, Tuttle directed it toward the Long Island Sound, ejecting into the thin air at over 5.5 miles in the sky.

Tuttle reached the frigid water, where he waited for eight minutes for help to arrive. When it did, the initial report indicated that he looked slightly better than expected. Tuttle told the Navy the only physical consequence of his fall was a scratch to his nose but he had fractured several vertebrae. Rather than take himself out of the running for future flights, Tuttle dealt with the pain and slept on a board for a year.

“All of these pilots looked at that as not only their calling, but they felt very strongly that this was important as Americans,” said Amy Tuttle, Bruce Tuttle’s youngest child and the program director at the Greater Port Jefferson-North Brookhaven Arts Council. “They were all patriotic guys.”

The plane Bruce Tuttle flew is still at the bottom of the Long Island Sound. 

The new Grumman exhibit at the Port Jefferson Village Center features several details from the test pilot’s work at the company and on behalf of the country, including a sonar image of the plane, which over the years has moved with the current under the Sound and is about two miles out from Old Field Point and the mouth of Port Jefferson Harbor. “If you take the Port Jefferson/ Bridgeport Ferry, you’re going right past the spot where dad’s plane crashed,” said Amy, whose father died in 2014.

Like other test pilots, Bruce Tuttle received a request to gauge his interest in joining the space program. He turned down the opportunity to be an astronaut because he didn’t want to be “in anything he couldn’t control,” explained Amy.

A Saks-34th Street advertisement from Oct. 11, 1953, reads, ‘Now you can own a jacket just like Bruce Tuttle’s … Chief Test Pilot for Grumman Aircraft Corp.’ Image courtesy of Amy Tuttle

Her father did, however, contribute to the space effort. When a crippled Apollo 13 was hobbling back from its ill-fated mission to the moon, he worked feverishly with other executives at NASA, Grumman and elsewhere to help guide the astronauts home.

“He’d come home from Bethpage to Stony Brook at 11 p.m., get up at 4 a.m. and go back out to Bethpage,” Amy said. “I remember asking him, ‘Dad, are you going to be able to get them back?’ He said, ‘Well, we’re working on it.’” She appreciated how her father couldn’t, and wouldn’t, guarantee a positive outcome.

Her father “worked on the lunar excursion module. They were using everybody’s knowledge that had ever worked on it to try to find a solution,” she said.

Amy thinks Apollo 13 was especially nerve wracking for test pilots like her father, who had been in combat, because it was “so important for them to get these guys on this mission back in one piece. The mindset was: no guy left behind.”

Bruce Tuttle’s interest in flying started on May 20, 1927, when his mother took him to a hillside in Port Jefferson to see Charles Lindbergh’s plane as it attempted to cross the Atlantic. Tuttle saw Lindbergh fly along the North Shore, head back as he reached Port Jefferson because of fog, and then head east again when he reached a clearing in Setauket.

“That made a big impression on him,” Amy said of her father, who won the Distinguished Flying Cross medal and who worked for Grumman from 1946 until the mid-1980s.

While Tuttle isn’t sure whether her father inspired anyone to fly jets, she said he was in an advertisement for a flight jacket from Saks-34th, which cost $15.95 in 1953.

Amy said her father was skeptical of the overuse of the word “hero.”

“He would say, ‘I’m not a hero,’ and I’m thinking to myself, you crashed a jet so that it wouldn’t land on anybody else and kill them. That’s pretty heroic.”

Shoreham-Wading River school board member Michael Fucito, at center with a commemorative dedication statue, was congratulated by the board on his retirement. Photo by Kevin Redding

At the end of last week’s Shoreham-Wading River school board meeting, it bid farewell to its “rock of reason” — a member who’s devoted 27 years to bettering the district and the lives of its students.

In announcing the retirement and resignation of Michael Fucito, 79, who first joined the school board in 1977, board president John Zukowski said Fucito had an incredible commitment to the community and had always been prepared for every meeting, leaving the job with the same dedication he started with.

Michael Fucito, on right, who was a member of the Shoreham-Wading River Board of Education for 27 years, is congratulated on his retirement by his peers. Photo by Kevin Redding

“When we get this job, we’re all sent out for this training [in Albany] and they tell you how to be a board member,” Zukowski said. “What they ought to do [instead] is say, ‘go follow Mike Fucito around for a couple days’ … he’s always applied his common sense and his logic and he kept everybody on track.”

Fucito, who was born in Brooklyn and raised in Wading River, served in the U.S. Air Force from 1955 until 1959 working on radio systems and learning about electronics before becoming an electrical engineer at Northrup Grumman Corporation in Calverton, where he worked for 34 years. He married his wife Joan in 1960 and together they had three daughters, all of whom went through the school district.

Fucito decided to join the board, and served for two terms from 1977 until 1993 and then from 2006 until last week, because he felt it was his responsibility to give back to the community and improve the district as best he could.

During his tenure, he was a mover and shaker when it came to building maintenance, budget and overall safety for the students, serving on the main board of liaisons on the safety committee formed in the late 70s and 80s, when the much-opposed Shoreham nuclear power plant stood in East Shoreham.

The safety committee, consisting of concerned residents, board members and teachers, was formed to discuss the district’s evacuation plans in the event of a serious nuclear accident at the plant, in the wake of the Three Mile Island accident.

“Mike is the epitome of what a trustee should strive to be. He’s always prepared … he’s always willing to serve, go the extra mile, sit through the ardor of every different committee and always comes out with his same smile.”

—William McGrath

“He was always an incredibly conscientious, hardworking, reflective guy and that’s what you want in a board member,” said Ed Weiss, a former board member and Fucito’s longtime friend. “You’re there to help kids and that’s the way he worked.”

He didn’t anticipate his early March resignation. He planned on finishing out the school year before retiring, moving from Wading River to his summer home in Wells, Vermont, but his house ended up selling in just three days.

Board trustee William McGrath, who’s worked alongside Fucito on the board for nine years, said his friend’s early resignation is New York’s loss and Vermont’s gain.

“Mike is the epitome of what a trustee should strive to be,” McGrath said. “He’s always prepared … he’s always willing to serve, go the extra mile, sit through the ardor of every different committee and always comes out with his same smile … He has been the glue that has held this district together for an awful long time.”

Upon receiving a plaque presented by the board, Fucito humbly stated his accomplishments weren’t a one-person effort, and said it takes a whole board to work to get something done.

“It has been my pleasure to serve the community all these years and I also have a great deal of respect for each of the members I’ve served with,” he said. “I wasn’t on the board to try to be a superhero or anything, I just tried to work with the staff and see how we could improve the situation for the students.”

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