The History of the Grumman Corporation: The Later Years

Stretching its Long Island reach eastward, the Grumman Coro portion leased 4,000 acres of a United States Naval Air Facility in Calverton, which it designated its “Peconic River” plant. During the latter part of 1953, manufacturing/engineering and flight operations buildings, along with two runways stretching 7,000 and 10,000 feet, arose from the eastern expanse, thus overcoming the Bethpage shortcoming. Additional land acquisition expanded it to just under 7,000 acres.

Business Aircraft:

Following his previous strategy of offering a series of amphibious aircraft targeted at the private and commercial market with the Goose, the Widgeon, and the Mallard, Leroy Grumman made an impromptu decision to design a more modern, land-based turboprop counterpart in an effort to diverge beyond the traditional military market on which he had hitherto relied and avoid laying off otherwise unneeded, but experienced engineering staff.

Market studies of, and feedback from, numerous, Fortune 500 companies indicated the need for such a corporate transport cruising at 350 mph and covering 1,800- to 2,200-mile sectors. Because of the speed advantage of the turbine, and the proven reliability of the Rolls Royce Dart engine, it was decided to optimize an airframe around it.

Unlike its amphibious predecessors, it emerged as a low, straight-wing monoplane, of 78.4-foot span, with a conventional tail, powered by two, 2,210 shaft-horsepower Rolls Royce Dart 529-8X or -8E turboprops, and rested on a tricycle undercarriage. The aircraft, with a 63.9-foot length, sported large, circular windows and accommodated from ten in an executive interior to 24 in a high-density, airliner configuration, piloted by a crew of two.

First taking to the skies from Bethpage on August 14, 1958 as the G-159 Gulfstream I, it was FAA certified on May 21 of the following year. At a 35,100-pound gross weight, it typically cruised at 334 mph and flew 1,865-mile stretches.

Sinclair Oil, the first customer for the type, became representative of the many corporations which operated it for employee transport. Limited, third-level and commuter operations were undertaken by Bonanza, Golden West, and Zantop in the US, Wardair in Canada, and Cimber Air in Denmark, although, even at its maximum, 24-pasenger capacity, it suffered from higher seat-mile costs than its other, purposefully-designed turboprop regional competitors, such as the 40-seat Fokker F.27 Friendship.

Fitted with an aft, port, 62-by-84-inch cargo door, it was flown by small package carriers DHL and Purolator. The US Navy also operated the type.

Production ceased at 200.

Although the Gulfstream I proved reliable, it could not remain competitive in the emerging business jet market, which was becoming defined by the higher speeds and lower block times of the Lockheed JetStar, North American Sabreliner, and Dassault Falcon.

Using the basic fuselage of the G-1, Grumman designed a successor optimized for Mach 0.83 cruise speeds, 43,000-foot service ceilings, and transcontinental ranges against headwinds, producing an aircraft which featured the now-standard configuration for the corporate market, as well as that of the early low-capacity, short-range jetliners: low, swept wings; aft-mounted, nacelle-encased turbofans to reduce cabin noise, minimize asymmetric thrust tendencies during single engine-out conditions, and leave the wing unobstructed for maximum lift capability; and a high t-tail to eliminate engine flow interference with the horizontal stabilizer surfaces.

Powered by two 11,400 thrust-pound Rolls Royce Spey Mk 511-8 turbofans, the aircraft, with a 79.11-foot overall length, sported 25-degree swept wings with a 68.10-foot span and rested on a dual-wheeled tricycle undercarriage. Designated the G-1159 Gulfstream II, it had a 65,500-pound gross weight and 3,292-mile range, which increased to 4,276 miles with wing tip fuel tanks.

Program go-ahead, on May 5, 1965, preceded the first flight from Bethpage a year and a half later, on October 2, but the Long Island plant was only to witness the production of a handful of them. A new factory, located in Savannah, Georgia, and opened in 1967, became the exclusive domain of its assembly and a new, spin-off company was subsequently created to overcome the inexperience in nonmilitary design marketing.

Like its turboprop predecessor, the Gulfstream II was operated by numerous, worldwide corporations, as well as the Coast Guard for staff transportation purposes. Two were modified by NASA to serve as Shuttle Training Aircraft (STA), simulating post-atmospheric Space Shuttle re-entry handling.

Of the 256 G-IIs produced, 121 were manufactured by Grumman, 106 by Grumman American, and 29 by Gulfstream American.


Having designed both civil and military aircraft for all three land, sea, and air operational realms, Grumman soon pitted its engineering talent against the ultimate one-space-transcending its involvement well beyond the atmospheric Shuttle Training Aircraft of the two modified Gulfstream IIs.

One of nine manufacturers to submit written proposals for the originally designated “Lunar Excursion Module,” itself the third of the three integral Command, Service, and Lunar Module components of the Apollo moon mission, it was selected by NASA on November 7, 1962.

The spacecraft, later shortened to “LM,” was intended to transport two astronauts from the lunar-orbiting Command-and-Service-Module unit to the surface and later return them, thus needing to serve as an atmosphereless transport, lifeline, surface habitat, and communication terminal in an uninhabited, never-before visited world which could not support the autonomous functioning of human beings. In the event of failure, there was no human or any other help on the lunar surface. The LM, therefore, had to operate flawlessly, yet was not, and could not have been, tested in the earth’s atmosphere. Its first moon landing was, in effect, its first real-condition test flight.

Subdivided itself into two stages, the Lunar Module featured a lower, or descent, stage, which was powered by a 9,700 thrust-pound liquid propellant rocket, carried the Apollo Lunar Surface Experiment Package (ALSEP), and sported four extended, spindly-appearing legs for landing and weight distribution. Serving as the subsequent launch platform for the upper, or ascent, stage, it remained on the moon as a testament to man’s presence, while the ascent stage itself, powered by a 3,500 thrust-pound liquid propellant rocket engine-which itself provided power to four Marquardt reaction control thrusters–housed the dual-person, Mission Commander and Lunar Module Pilot crew, who were harnessed in a standing position before the controls and the instrument panel.

Because of the reduction in gravity on the moon, the LM was able to employ light structures and what would have been thin, easily-crushable outer skins on earth, reducing the amount of thrust required to operate it and the weight carried by the integral, tri-component spacecraft which served as the bridge between the two worlds. Solar radiation and dust protection was ensured by an aluminum shield external wrapping and a second aluminized Mylar sheet.

Dimensionally, it rose 22.11 feet high as an integrated, ascent stage, descent stage, and extended-leg unit and 14.11 feet wide at its widest, upper-stage point.

Unlike Grumman’s other, massively-produced designs, the Lunar Module was painstakingly assembled, wrapped, and virtually coddled by human hands, one vehicle at a time. In all, the effort resulted in two Lunar Module Test Article simulators, ten Lunar Module Test Article modules, and 12 operational Lunar Modules, although, without the intermittent contract cancellation, that total would have increased to 15. Because of the handmade process and minor modifications of the later vehicles, their gross weights varied between 32,000 and 36,025 pounds.

The first manned Lunar Module fight occurred on March 3, 1969 when it separated from the Command Module of Apollo 9 while in earth orbit, covering a 113-mile distance before jettisoning its descent stage and returning to rendezvous and dock with it.

The now-famous fight–and the purpose for which it had been designed–however, took place on the July 16, 1969 Apollo 11mission, when Neil Armstrong, separating from the spacecraft five days later in LM-5 “Eagle,” linked earth-and humanity-with its moon for the first time since their creations, manually overriding the controls to avoid alighting in a crater and settling on the Sea of Tranquility. Descending the landing leg-attached ladder in his self-contained space suit, he proclaimed with his equally famous words, “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”

No greater gravity, despite the reduction of it on the lunar surface, ever rode on a Grumman design during this pivotal, planetary-transcendent moment and all the subsequent moon missions, and the spacecraft, which had made it possible, redefined the company-from an aviation to an aerospace concern.

The Intruder and the Tomcat:

Grumman’s last major aircraft returned it to its earthly-and military-roots.

More than a decade before the Lunar Module had stirred the dust in the Sea of Tranquility, Grumman, along with eight other manufacturers, submitted proposals to fulfill both the Navy’s and the Marines’ requirements for an all-weather, long-range interdiction and close air support design with short take off and landing (STOL) capabilities to incorporate a manufacturer-designed weapons system and cruise at 500-knot speeds. Grumman’s proposal was the winning one.

Although four development aircraft, designated A2F-1s, were ordered in March of 1959, followed by an order for an equal number a year later, the inaugural fight, occurring at Calverton on April 19, 1963, revealed handling deficiencies and problems with its Digital Integrated Attack Navigation Equipment, or DIANE.

Considerable redevelopment resulted in the definitive A-6 Intruder. Powered by two, 8,500 thrust-pound, fuselage side-mounted J52-P-6 turbojets, the mid-, 25-degree-swept wing, low-altitude attack aircraft had a 54.9-foot overall length and 53-foot span. The upward-folding wings themselves, with a 529-square-foot area, featured a compound, leading edge sweep. Both the tail and tricycle undercarriage were conventional, but the nose wheel was equipped with a catapulting system for carrier operations. Up to 18,000 pounds of armament, attached to wing and fuselage centerline points, could be carried.

With a 53,699-pound maximum take off weight, the Intruder could climb at 6,950 fpm and approached the transonic speed line of Mach 0.95 at 28,000 feet, although Mach 0.87 more closely approximated its standard cruise velocity. Range varied between 1,350 and 3,225 miles.

Of the 474 A-6As produced up to December 28, 1970, those appearing after 1965 were powered by uprated, 9,300 thrust-pound J52-P-8As or -Bs.

The A-6E, introducing an AN/ASQ-133 solid state digital computer and AN/APQ-148 multi-mode radar, succeeded the A-6A as the standard production version with the 483rd aircraft and first flew in 1970.

Instrumental in the Vietnam War, the Intruder was able to deliver heavy loads during poor weather conditions, and was an integral part of US Navy carrier fleets plying the Bering Sea, the Atlantic, the North Sea, the Mediterranean, the Indian Ocean, and the Pacific. It partook of the Libyan conflict.

A stretched fuselage counterpart, with a crew of four and designated the EA-6 Prowler, was optimized for tactical electronic warfare.

In order to maintain its core, carrier-based fighter design purpose, make up for the small number of F11F Tigers ordered, and recover from other design competition losses to McDonnell and Vought, Grumman set its sights, along with its funding, on a new, state-of-the-art, all-weather, air superiority fighter to incorporate tandem seating, variable-geometry wings, dual powerplants, an AN/AWG-9 track-while-scan radar, Sparrow semi-active radar-honing missiles, Phoenix long-range missiles, Sidewinder heat-seeking missiles, an internal cannon, and supersonic, beyond-Mach 2 speeds.

Of the design proposals submitted by General Dynamics, Lockheed, LTV, McDonnell, North American, and Grumman, Grumman itself was awarded a research, development, test, and evaluation contract on February 3, 1969.

Employing steel and titanium construction, the resultant F-14 Tomcat was powered by two 12,350 thrust-pound Pratt and Whitney TF30-P-412A below-wing mounted engines, whose power output increased to 20,900 pounds of thrust with afterburner deployment, and featured variable-geometry, swing-wings. The latter, automatically configured according to speed and flight phase, were equipped with glove vanes, slats, and flaps, and varied between a 20-degree sweepback (with a corresponding 64-foot, 1.5-inch span) and 68-degree trans- and supersonic-speed sweepback (and 38-foot, 2.5-inch span). Manual reconfiguration, to 75 degrees, minimized carrier stowage space requirements. Sporting twin vertical tails, again to reduce storage space requirements by decreasing its overall height, it became the first production aircraft to incorporate boron-epoxy composites in its horizontal stabilizer skins.

First flying on December 21, 1970 from Calverton, the sleek Tomcat, with a 62.8-foot length, had a 74,349-pound gross weight and superlative performance, climbing at 32,500 fpm and cruising at 610 to 1,544 mph.

The initial, F-14A version, with a 712-aircraft production run (including 80 for Iran), was succeeded by the F-14A+, which offered higher-thrust General Electric F110-400 engines and other modifications, and the F-14D, which introduced a glass cockpit and a digital avionics suite.

Coupling its dogfighting capability with its long-range missile armament and radar, the Tomcat served in the Fleet Air Defense (FAD) and Deck-Launched Intercept (DLI) roles, becoming the Navy’s primary air superiority fighter and tactical reconnaissance aircraft from 1972 to 2006, having partaken of numerous missions, including those of the Gulf of Sidra and Operations Desert Shield, Desert Storm, Deliberate Force, Allied Force, Desert Fox, Enduring Freedom, and Iraqi Freedom.

However, Navy-submitted proposals to further upgrade the F-14D were rejected by Congress in 1994, since it elected to replace the type with the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet instead. As the last major defense contract-supported naval fighter, it also signaled the end of its more than six-decade independent reign.

The aircraft’s last US combat mission occurred on February 6, 2006 when two F-14s landed on the USS Theodore Roosevelt, and its absolute last flight, albeit for ferry purposes, took place one month later, on October 4, when an F-14D flew from Oceana to Farmingdale, Long Island. Like a salmon returning to its origin to spawn, it ended its life on the very same soil on which it-and its Grumman creator-had begun.

Northrop Grumman:

The Tomcat air superiority fighter, with its advanced design, variable-geometry wings, and supersonic speed capability, signaled the company’s future, but ironically it was also symbolic of its demise. Its technology was never in question. Its financing was.

An eight-lot, fixed-price procurement contract, providing cost guarantees to the Navy, initially ensured Grumman an 11-percent profit until the 134th aircraft was built. But inflation, ballooning from the three-percent incorporated in the contract, soon reached double-digit levels, resulting in a $2 million loss on every aircraft made and causing the company to skirt the fringes of bankruptcy. Its already-low price was accepted to win what was believed to have been an even lower bid for a comparable design by McDonnell-Douglas, and post-Vietnam war budget reductions prohibited additional-and profitable-A-6E Intruder orders, forcing it to rely on its loss-making F-14 program for a larger percentage of its revenue base. Both production of it, and consequently the personnel needed to assemble it in Calverton, was forcibly reduced.

The company’s bank credit line was ultimately cut like a knife-spliced wire.

Only after choking on the losses generated by the first five order lots was Grumman able to secure an annual, term-renegotiable contract, enabling it to obtain a revenue-infusing loan with Bankers Trust and an 80-Tomcat order from Iran.

Although naval battles traditionally reserved for the sky were transferred to offices and boardrooms, and the government contemplated a Grumman-directed lawsuit, the F-14 program was once again able to return to profitability, albeit with overhead and payroll reductions. But, as its long line of designs had indicated, advancing technology-from bi- to monoplane, from straight to variable-geometry wings, from piston to turbojet, and from sub- to supersonic speeds-it could not carry it forever, and it had to keep abreast, if not ahead, of the curve if it wished to survive as a provider of military aircraft. The latest advance was stealth technology.

Its two-and soon-to-be last-major programs, the A-6 Intruder and the F-14 Tomcat itself, were approaching the end of their cycles, and their cost flows reflected their production declines.

Little revenue of any significance remained to support it as a long-term, financially viable company, nor did any major program appear on the horizon. Because of the ensuing interval, during which stealthy military designs such as the Lockheed F-117 and the Northrup B-2 were emerging from competitor production plants, Grumman could neither close the gap between it and these other manufacturers nor did it have the funding to do so.

As a result of its own progressively more advanced military designs and solid Navy experience, it proved an attractive target to a suitor. When reduced procurement funding advocated defense industry consolidation, the Grumman Corporation, without any viable survival strategy, relented to the take over offer by Northrop and its stock was thus tendered to it on April 15, 1994, at which time it ceased to exist as an independent company after six and a half decades.

Legacy’s Lesson:

The seeds Leroy Randle Grumman had planted in Long Island soil-of conviction, beliefs, strengths, talents, and vision-firmly took root there, spreading across the region in the form of aircraft plants, ever-growing employment, suburban development, and economic contribution, and establishing aviation as its premier industry, before canvassing the globe with defense capability and victory.

Toward the end, without choice, it was forced to diversify its product range, manufacturing an array of core-deviating, non-aviation items, such as solar panels, buses, windmills, and hydrofoils, with which it had little to no experience, resulting in both a loss of revenue and reputation. Ironically, one of its diversifications-that of the Gulfstream I and II-would have enabled it to establish itself in the emerging corporate aircraft market segment and would have injected it with much-needed success. Manufactured by a spun-off company, the turbofan-powered G-II was redeveloped into the most advanced, and successful, series of G-III, -IV, -V, and -650 business jets. This initial diversification strategy thus proved correct. The decision to rescind it, at this point in its still-vibrant history, did not.

Paradoxically, the more it attempted to reinvent itself as a nonmilitary-dependent, non-aviation manufacturer in the early-1990s in order to survive, the more its last-ditch effort only accelerated and ensured its demise. And therein lies the lesson of the Grumman Corporation’s legacy.

As long as it had remained true to the seeds Leroy Grumman himself had planted, it flourished and grew. When it had attempted to sprout something its seeds could not produce, it had withered and failed. In short, being what you are by using, as in the case of Grumman, your strengths and innate talents to create robust, mostly-carrier-borne naval aircraft to earn the nickname of “Iron Works,” is natural and breeds success. Attempting to be what you are not, despite a survival mode implementation of non-aviation core diversification strategies, is unnatural and breeds failure.

The same principle applies to people.

Pungky Dwiasmoro Hiswardhani

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