Tech Before Theme Parks | UCF and the Central Florida Research Park

A few years before Walter Elias Disney surreptitiously bought huge tracts of land in Central Florida, another visionary had purchased 10 square miles of pasture and orange groves southwest of Orlando to expand his company and namesake, the Glenn L. Martin Co. An aviation pioneer, Martin started his company in 1912 in California. The Orlando operation was built in 1956-1958 for the Army’s Pershing tactical ballistic missile and later the Patriot defense missile.

In 1961, it merged with the American-Marietta Corp., forming Martin Marietta Corp.

During World War II the Orlando Airport (today Orlando Executive Airport) was taken over by the military. They built an auxiliary field, McCoy Air Force Base, 10 miles south of Orlando to train pilots. Orlando was swarming with military and training operations.

However, in 1965 the Air Force left Central Florida and it was “Anchors Aweigh”—the U.S. Navy arrived.

In a political deal in 1966, Robert H.B. Baldwin, then Under Secretary of the Navy, announced that the City of Orlando had been chosen as the site of the Navy’s newest and most modern training facility. The closed air force base was renamed the Naval Training Center Orlando.

With President Kennedy’s goal of space travel and landing a man on the moon, and the advent of the Cold War, Central Florida’s technical and aerospace industries were bustling. Martin Marietta was pivoting out of aircraft and into guided missile, space exploration and space utilization industries.

Eventually the synergy of military training and missile production and Cape Canaveral’s space programs made it clear the state needed a university to support these technical jobs. Florida Senate Bill No. 125 creating the new university passed both the House and the Senate in 1963.

Florida Technological University (FTU), located halfway between Martin Marietta and the Kennedy Space Center, opened in 1968. Its first program was in computer science and engineering.

Since FTU already had an established relationship with the Kennedy Space Center and Martin Marietta (now Lockheed Martin), a natural fit was in the field of simulation. FTU’s first president, Charles Millican, quickly saw the Navy had many engineers and a connection was formed. The new university was thrilled to task the needs of the Navy.

FTU got into simulation and training rather rapidly. When the Navy arrived they brought engineers (hardware and software), technical writers, computer engineers and more.

In the late 1970s, the FTU leadership, led by its second president, Trevor Colburn, decided to bring companies close to the campus and follow a model similar to the Research Triangle Park or Silicon Valley. The school had grown so large at that time that the name was changed to the University of Central Florida in December 1978.

A large tract of land was purchased south of the campus and the Central Florida Research Park was formed in 1981. In an appropriate nod to the military that helped inspire the university, the Navy was approached to locate to the Research Park on a 40-acre parcel.

The Navy accepted the deal and in 1988 they opened their doors as the third building. And with that, the whole Research Park came to life.