John J. Montgomery
1858 - 1911

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John J. Montgomery



       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.

John J. Montgomery's 1884 glider
John J. Montgomery's First Fixed-Wing Monoplane Glider (with curved wing surfaces) - 1884 - 85

John J. Montgomery's 1885 glider

John J. Montgomery's Second Monoplane Glider (with flat wing surfaces) - 1885


John J. Montgomery's 1886 glider

John J. Montgomery's Third Monoplane Glider (with curved wing surfaces) - 1886


John J. Montgomery - 1881

John J. Montgomery - 1881
Photograph generously provided by Craig Harwood,
John J. Montgomery's Great Grand-Nephew

James P. Montgomery - 1887
James "Jimmy" P. Montgomery Who Assisted His Older Brother,
John J. Montgomery, During His 1883 Glider Experiments - 1887
Photograph generously provided by Craig Harwood,
John J. Montgomery's Great Grand-Nephew

       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."

John J. Montgomery's 1896 model tandem-wing glider

John J. Montgomery's model Tandem-Wing Glider - 1896

John J. Montgomery's 1896 model tandem-wing glider

John J. Montgomery's 1896 Model Tandem-Wing Glider
"The Pink Maiden", wing span of 3 ft. 6 in.
(damaged; held by Ellen Evoy Montgomery) - ca. 1920
Photograph generously provided by Craig Harwood,
John J. Montgomery's Great Grand-Nephew

John J. Montgomery's Fifth (1903) and Sixth (1903) Model Gliders

John J. Montgomery's Fifth (left) and Sixth (right) Model Gliders - 1903

Drawings of John J. Montgomery's 1905 Tandem-Wing Glider

Three-View Drawing of John J. Montgomery's 1905 Tandem-Wing Glider

John J. Montgomery and his tandem-wing glider

John J. Montgomery and his Tandem-Wing Glider - 1905

John J. Montgomery's 1905 Tandem-Wing Glider The Santa Clara

John J. Montgomery (left) and his Tandem-Wing Glider "The Santa Clara" (rear view)

John J. Montgomery's 1905 Tandem-Wing Glider The Santa Clara

John J. Montgomery's 1905 Tandem-Wing Glider The Santa Clara

John J. Montgomery's Tandem-Wing Glider "The Santa Clara" with Daniel J. Maloney aboard,
going aloft under Frank Hamilton's hot-air smoke balloon - 1905

       A professional parachutist, Daniel J. Maloney, was hired to operate Montgomery's tandem wing gliders and, after some considerable training during June, July and August of 1904, became quite adept at maneuvering the machine. Private demonstration flights were made during August of 1904 at Aptos, California, and again during March 1905 with newspaper reporters observing. Montgomery's tandem-wing gliders were carried aloft beneath large hot-air smoke balloons, most notably the one owned by Frank Hamilton (sometimes erroneously cited as "Charles K. Hamilton"). An unfortunate accident in July 1905 leading to structural failure of the glider "The Santa Clara" caused Maloney's death.

Daniel J. Maloney - 1905

Daniel J. Maloney - 1905

      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.

Powered Montgomery Tandem-Wing Aeroplane - 1910

The Powered Montgomery Tandem-Wing Aeroplane - 1910

      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.

John J. Montgomery - 1911
John J. Montgomery Landing "The Evergreen" Monoplane Glider - 1911
Photograph generously provided by Craig Harwood,
John J. Montgomery's Great Grand-Nephew


Montgomery's Monoplane Glider, The Evergreen - October 1911
John J. Montgomery's Monoplane Glider "The Evergreen" - October 1911


Thanks are due to Craig Harwood, John J. Montgomery's Great Grand-Nephew, not only for the photographs (as noted)
and primary-source information he has provided but also for his continued advocacy on behalf of his Great Grand-Uncle.


SUGGESTED READING:

Quest for Flight: John J. Montgomery and the Dawn of Aviation in the West
by Craig Harwood and Gary Fogel, University of Oklahoma Press, ISBN-13: 978-0806142647)

John Joseph Montgomery - Father of Basic Flying by Arthur Dunning Spearman,
University of Santa Clara Press, Santa Clara, California 1967


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