As a child, John Joseph Montgomery witnessed the flight of the Avitor Hermes, Jr., in 1869. He began his own aerial experiments in late August of 1883, attempting to fly in a wing-flapping monoplane glider. Montgomery recalled in 1905 that the wing-flapping glider was "the first and only real disappointment in the study." In 1884 he constructed a monoplane glider with curved wing surfaces, in which he made a glide of some considerable length, from Otay Mesa, near San Diego, California. However, the particulars of that flight have remained somewhat obscure and no written record of the time documenting the event has survived. Many sources have apparently confused Montgomery's 1883 wing-flapping glider with his 1884-1885 curved wing surface glider, and have thus erroneously stated that the 1883 experiment was with the curved wing surface glider. No depiction of the 1883 flapping-wing monoplane glider appears to have survived.
Montgomery's second monoplane glider, with flat wings, was built in 1884-85, and featured hinged surfaces at the rear of the wings to maintain lateral balance, thus anticipating ailerons. Montgomery's third monoplane glider, constructed in 1886, dispensed with (rather than developed) the ailerons in favor of rocking the wings (which were modeled on turkey buzzard wings), independently or together, to maintain lateral balance as well as to provide pitch control. In 1885 or 1886 Montgomery built a "whirling table" and utilized a flat tank with moving water to conduct "hundreds of experiments" with various configurations of lifting surfaces. There appears to be some evidence, at least, that as early as 1885 Montgomery noticed and recorded the circulation of the water around his test surfaces, using fine grains and other material to show the pattern of the water's movement around the test sections. If that is the case (which bears further research), then John J. Montgomery noted the underlying phenomena of the "circulation theory of lift" as well as trailing edge vortices, which were not documented and published until June of 1894 by Frederick William Lanchester. Lanchester wrote in 1915, "The author (Note: Lanchester) believes he can claim priority as far as the discovery of the vortex or cyclic system surrounding the aerofoil is concerned, this having been the basis of a paper read before the Birmingham Natural History and Philosophical Society in 1894, and a further paper submitted by him to the Physical Society of London in 1897. The theory in question, with the results of a considerable number of other investigations, eventually received full publication in the year 1907 in the treatise 'Aerial Flight'." In 1931 Dr. Lanchester was awarded The Daniel Guggenheim Medal for his Vortex Theory, which was seen as a fundamental advance in the study of aerodynamics.
The fourth of Montgomery's gliders, large models of which were built and tested in the summer of 1896 and 1903 (most notably at Aptos and San Juan Bautista, California), led to his construction of large, 24 ft. wing span, tandem-wing human-carrying gliders, "The California" and "The Santa Clara." One source close to Montgomery wrote in 1905 "These experiments (NOTE: studies with liquids) were performed in 1894. From that year until the fall of 1903 nothing special was undertaken in the flying direction. Mr. Montgomery has been at Santa Clara for eight years, engaged, most of the time, with Rev. Father Bell, S. J., on Wireless Telegraphy and other electrical phenomena. In 1903 he constructed his first aeroplane with a view to study the subject scientifically."
A professional parachutist,
It is not well known that after Maloney's death experiments with Montgomery-type gliders continued, and public flights were made by Defolco and David Wilkie in February of 1906. In Chicago, Illinois, in 1910, Victor Lougheed, Horace B. Wild, James E. Plew and others constructed and flew a powered Montgomery-type tandem-wing aeroplane with wheeled landing gear. The tandem-wings and framework of this powered Montgomery-type aeroplane were probably built by Montgomery at Santa Clara, California.
Montgomery's heirs became involved in patent litigation with the Wright Company after Montgomery's death in October 1911. Montgomery died in an accident while at the controls of his monoplane glider "The Evergreen" near San Jose, California. John J. Montgomery worked with flying machines for some 27 years and deserves considerable recognition as one of the earliest, if not the earliest, glider experimenters in the U.S. Unfortunately, Montgomery's often secretive nature, his sometimes naive aeronautical understanding and extravagant claims made by some of his later advocates have left his image somewhat lessened. John J. Montgomery's aerial efforts rank as some of the most important in the U.S. during the period of his experimentation, and he deserves far more recognition than he has received.