John Joseph Montgomery

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John Joseph Montgomery
04-02392 John J. Montgomery.jpg
Born (1858-02-15)February 15, 1858
Yuba City, California
Died October 31, 1911(1911-10-31) (aged 53)
Evergreen, California
Resting place
Colma, California
Occupation aviation pioneer, inventor, professor, physicist
Spouse(s) Regina Cleary

John Joseph Montgomery (February 15, 1858 – October 31, 1911) was an American inventor, physicist, engineer, and professor at Santa Clara College in Santa Clara, California who is best known for his invention of controlled heavier-than-air flying machines.

Between the years 1884 and 1886, Montgomery, a native of Yuba City, California made the first manned, controlled, flights in a heavier-than-air flying machine in the United States, using a series of gliders in Otay Mesa near San Diego, California.[1] These independent advances came after flights by European pioneers such as George Cayley's coachman in England (1853) and Jean-Marie Le Bris in France (1856).[2]

Montgomery devised different control mechanisms for his gliders including weight shifting for roll and a pilot-operated elevator for pitch (1884), and subsequently hinged, pilot-operated trailing edge flaps on the wings (1885-1886) for roll control,[3][4][5][6][7][8] leading to full wing warping systems for roll (1903-1905)[9][10] and full wing warping systems for both pitch and roll (1911).[11]


In the early 1880s, Montgomery began studying the anatomy of a variety of large soaring birds to determine their basic characteristics (i.e., wing area, total weight, curved surfaces). He made detailed observation of birds in flight, especially large soaring birds such as eagles, hawks, vultures and flocks of American pelicans who soared on thermals near San Diego Bay.[12]

His initial attempts at achieving manned flight was through the use of ornithopters. In 1883 he built and experimented with a series of three ornithopters but found that human strength was insufficient to achieve the necessary lift. Later that year he abandoned flapping flight considering instead to emulate soaring birds through fixed-wing heavier-than-air craft. He reasoned that it would be possible to solve the physics of gliding and soaring flight and then add motive power at a later time.[13]

Fixed-Wing Gliders[edit]

Montgomery's concepts for the design, construction, and control of a series of fixed-wing gliders were initially tested through small scale free-flight models. His first glider, built in 1883-84 used a cambered airfoil patterned after the curve of the seagull wing. Pitch was controlled by an operable elevator with roll being controlled using pilot weight shift. Yaw was left unaddressed. This basic aircraft design served as the basis for three gliders over the period 1883-1886. In the Spring of 1884, Montgomery made several glides of up to 600 feet in length from the rim of Otay Mesa.[14][15] During these flights, Montgomery found that the glider would not respond well to side gusts. He returned to ornithology and noted how turkey vultures in the area had significant dihedral and twisted their wings as a form of lateral balance.[16]

Mimicking these control systems, in 1884-1885 he incorporated hinged "flaps" in the trailing edge of a second glider. These flaps were held under spring tension (for automatic balance in gusts) but were also connected through cables to the pilot’s seat so that they could be operated mechanically by the pilot for roll control.[17][18][19] In essence these "flaps" were very early ailerons. The second glider also made use of a flat plate airfoil, considerable dihedral for control of yaw, and an operable elevator for pitch. In order to more easily attain proper launching speed, a new inclined rail system with a trigger release was invented such that the glider and pilot could roll from the top of a hill, attain speed and then flight. The second glider flew, but with shorter glides (200–300 feet) relative to the first glider given the flat airfoil.[20]

In the Winter of 1885-86, Montgomery constructed a third glider. This glider once again adopted a cambered airfoil modeled after the wings of a vulture, however the leading and trailing edges were turned upward slightly. The glider also had a "gull" shaped wing profile when looking head on. New controls allowed the pilot to vary the angle of incidence of the left and right wing either in unison or independently. Dihedral and an operable elevator were also included. Although the control systems worked, only short glides were accomplished using the rail launch system.[21] Montgomery concluded that a better understanding of aerodynamics was needed towards the design a proper airfoil.


Beginning in about 1885, and in parallel with his gliding experiments, Montgomery entered into a long series of controlled experiments using a whirling arm device, a smoke chamber, water current table, as well as large wooden surfaces placed at angled into the prevailing wind in order to understand the physics of flow around curved surfaces.[22] Birds wings were also dried in their extended form and placed in wind currents to observe the effect. His work in the 1880s confirmed that mechanical systems used by a pilot could preserve lateral balance and some degree of equilibrium in gliding flight. His controlled investigations of aerodynamics confirmed the value of a cambered surface for obtaining lift.[23]

In 1893 Montgomery visited the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago, where he met Octave Chanute, who was chairing a conference on "Aerial Navigation". Montgomery participated in the discussion and his comments were included in the conference proceedings, Discussions on the Various Papers on Soaring Flight[24] Following this meeting, Chanute included Montgomery's account of his earlier experiments in Progress in Flying Machines.

John J. Montgomery and his tandem-wing glider The Santa Clara (1905)

On March 16, 17 and 20th 1905, Montgomery's pilot Daniel Maloney made several successful flights at Leonard's ranch (now known as Seascape) Aptos, California and on April 29, 1905 at Santa Clara, California using a tandem wing Montgomery glider launched from a hot air balloon, but was killed on July 18, 1905 when the aircraft suffered a structural failure.[25] John Montgomery filed for patent on April 26, 1905 (issued as U.S. Patent #831,173 [26] on September 18, 1906) for his invention of an aeroplane. He was a member of the Aero Club of Illinois (1910) and member of the research committee of the Technical Board of the Aeronautical Society of New York (1911).

Montgomery died in the crash of his glider "The Evergreen" on October 31, 1911 on the hill (now known as "Montgomery Hill") just behind Evergreen Valley College, which is located in the east foothills of San Jose, California and was buried at Holy Cross Cemetery in Colma, California on November 3, 1911. Evergreen Valley College honors his memory with a green space (Montgomery Grove), a lecture hall (Montgomery Hall), and an observatory (Montgomery Hill Observatory). There is also a memorial park located at the intersection of Yerba Buena Road and San Felipe Road on the way to the college.

In 1946, John J. Montgomery's life was portrayed in the movie Gallant Journey starring Glenn Ford and Janet Blair, and directed by William Wellman. The chief pilot for the movie was Paul Mantz. The movie debuted in San Diego, California.

John J. Montgomery landing "The Evergreen" monoplane glider (1911).
"The Evergreen" glider restored by the Smithsonian Institution on display at the San Diego Air and Space Museum

Historical Landmarks[edit]

Silver Wing monument at Montgomery-Waller Recreation Center in Otay Mesa, San Diego, California

Two California Historical Landmarks are associated with Montgomery:

  • Montgomery Hill, San Jose[29] near Evergreen Valley College. Evergreen Valley College also honors his memory with a green space (Montgomery Grove), a lecture hall (Montgomery Hall), and an observatory (Montgomery Hill Observatory). On March 15, 2008, a sculpture was unveiled at San Felipe and Yerba Buena roads in San Jose, California as a tribute to Montgomery. The 30-foot-tall steel structure of a glider wing was placed on a 32-foot-diameter plaza designed by San Francisco artist Kent Roberts.[30]

Airports and Aviation Clubs[edit]

In 1919, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors changed the name of the Marina Flying Field just east of Crissy Field to "Montgomery Field."[31] From 1920 to 1944 Montgomery Field served as an airmail facility. This field still exists along the Embarcadero as Marina Green.

On May 20, 1950, Montgomery Field (MYF) in San Diego, California, one of the busiest airports for small planes in the United States, was named in his honor.

Dedication plaque for Montgomery Field, San Diego

Civil Air Patrol Squadron 36 in San Jose, California is named the "John J. Montgomery Memorial Cadet Squadron 36" in his honor.[32] Their motto is "Exceed the Challenge." Experimental Aircraft Association Chapter 338 in San Jose, California is also named in honor of Montgomery.[33]


Other Recognitions[edit]

John J. Montgomery was inducted into the National Aviation Hall of Fame in 1964 and U.S. Soaring Hall of Fame[39] in 2001.

In 1996, Montgomery's 1883 glider was recognized as an International Historic Mechanical Engineering Landmark by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers.

On March 19, 2005, John J. Montgomery was the focus of a Centennial Celebration of Soaring Flight, held in Aptos, California at the location of some of his early glider experiments. At this celebration, a marker was placed in Aptos in honor of the first high altitude flights by man.[40]

A section of the Interstate 5 freeway that passes through the former site of the Montgomery 1880s Fruitland Ranch was named the John J. Montgomery Freeway in San Diego, California.

On April 5, 2008, a celebration of the 125th anniversary of John Montgomery's first glide took place at the Hiller Aviation Museum in San Carlos, California.[41]

See also[edit]


  • Montgomery, John J. Discussions on the Various Papers on Soaring Flight Proceedings of the International Conference on Aerial Navigation, Chicago, Aug. 1-4. 1893 pp. 246–249.
  • Montgomery, John J. Soaring Flight, manuscript, 1895.
  • Montgomery, John J. The Mechanics Involved in a Bird's Wing in Soaring and Their Relation to Aeronautics, Address to the Southern California Academy of Sciences, Los Angeles, Nov. 9, 1897.
  • Montgomery, John J. The Aeroplane, The Aeroplane Advertising Co., Santa Clara, CA, 1905.
  • Montgomery, John J. New Principles in Aerial Flight, Scientific American, November 25, 1905.
  • Montgomery, John J. Principles Involved in the Formation of Winged Surfaces and the Phenomenon of Soaring, presented at the Aeronautics Congress, New York, Oct. 28-29, 1907. Published in Aeronautics Vol. 3, No. 5, November, 1908.
  • Montgomery, John J. Some Early Gliding Experiments in America, Aeronautics, Vol. 4, No. 1, 1909, pp. 47–50.
  • Montgomery, John J. The Origin of Wing Warping: Professor Montgomery's Experiments, Aeronautics (London), Vol. 3, No. 6, 1910, pp. 63–64.
  • Montgomery, John J. Our Tutors in the Art of Flying, Aeronautics, September 22, 1915, pp. 99–100 (article printed posthumously).


  1. U.S. Patent 0,308,189 - Devulcanizing and restoring vulcanized rubber - 1884 November 18
  2. U.S. Patent 0,549,679 - Petroleum burner - 1895 November 12
  3. British Patent 21477 - Petroleum burner and furnace - 1895 November 12
  4. German Patent 88977 - Petroleum oven - 1895 November 12
  5. Canadian Patent 50585 - Petroleum burner - 1895 November 14
  6. Canadian Patent 70319 - Concentrator - 1901 February 19
  7. U.S. Patent 0,679,155 - Concentrator - 1901 July 23
  8. U.S. Patent 0,742,889 - Concentrator - 1903 November 3
  9. U.S. Patent 0,831,173 - Aeroplane - 1906 September 18
  10. U.S. Patent 0,974,171 - Rectifying electric currents - 1910 November 1
  11. U.S. Patent 0,974,415 - Process for compelling electric motors to keep is step with the waves or impulses of the current driving them, and a motor embodying the process - 1895 November 12


  1. ^ Harwood, Craig S. and Fogel, Gary B. (2012) Quest for Flight: John J. Montgomery and the Dawn of Aviation in the West. University of Oklahoma Press.
  2. ^ The Journal of San Diego History, July 1968, Vol. 14, No. 3.
  3. ^ "Machine with Wings Upsets Theories," "Years of Research Applied to Solving the Problem," San Jose Mercury Evening News, March 31, 1905.
  4. ^ "Third Tests Are All Successful," San Francisco Bulletin, March 26, 1905.
  5. ^ Montgomery, John J. (1909) "Some Early Gliding Experiments In America," Aeronautics (New York) Vol. 4, No. 1.
  6. ^ Montgomery, John J. (1910) "The Origin of Warping: Professor Montgomery's Experiments," Aeronautics (London) Vol. 3, No. 5, pp. 63-64.
  7. ^ Hayward, Charles B. (ed.) (1912) Practical Aeronautics, American School of Correspondence, Chicago.(Introduction written by Orville Wright)
  8. ^ Chanute, Octave. (1893) “Progress in Flying Machines,” The American Engineer and Railroad Journal, p. 580.
  9. ^ Chanute, Octave. (1907) "Montgomery." In: Pocket-Book of Aeronautics, edited by Hermann. W. L. Moedebeck, translated by W. Mansergh Varley, Vol. 309, No. 10. London: Whittaker and Co.
  10. ^ Montgomery, John J. (1910) "The Origin of Wing Warping." Lecture delivered to the Aeronautic Society of New York, April 21, 1910, excerpted in: “The Origin of Warping: Professor Montgomery's Experiments." Aeronautics (London) Vol. 3, No. 6, pp. 63-64.
  11. ^ Campi, Richard B. (1961) "Description and Analysis of the 1911 Montgomery Controllable Man Carrying Glider." Working paper, December 29, 1961.
  12. ^ Montgomery, John J. (1915) “Our Tutors in the Art of Flying,” Aeronautics, pp. 99-100 (published posthumously).
  13. ^ Kavanagh, Dennis K. (1905) “The Story of The Aeroplane,” in The Aeroplane, published by The Aeroplane Advertising Company, Santa Clara, California.
  14. ^ Montgomery, John J. (1910) "The Origin of Warping - Professor Montgomery's Experiments," in John H. Ledeboer, (Ed.), Aeronautics (London), May, pages 63-64. (Abstract of a lecture given to the New York Aeronautic Society on April 21, 1910.) This lecture ("The Origin of Warping") was reprised from a speech delivered by Montgomery at the Conference on Aerial Navigation in Chicago, 1893.
  15. ^ Montgomery, James P., direct testimony in response to Q. 16, Jan. 13, 1919, Regina C. Montgomery et al. v. the United States - Equity No. 33852.
  16. ^ Montgomery, John J. (1910) "The Origin of Warping - Professor Montgomery's Experiments," in John H. Ledeboer, (Ed.), Aeronautics (London), May, pp. 63-64.
  17. ^ Montgomery, John J. "The Origin of Warping: Professor Montgomery's Experiments," Aeronautics (London) May, pp. 63-64.
  18. ^ Montgomery, Richard J. Direct Testimony in Court (Equity No. 33852) on January 13, 1919.
  19. ^ Burroughs, Charles, Affidavit dated Feb 26, 1920, Notarized by Agnes G. Nello.
  20. ^ Burroughs, Charles, Affidavit dated Feb 26, 1920, Notarized by Agnes G. Nello
  21. ^ Montgomery, John J. (1910) “The Early Development of the Warping Principle”, 2nd draft (unpublished) of a potential article written in 1910.
  22. ^ Montgomery, John J. (1894) “Discussion of the Various Papers on Soaring Flight,” Proceedings of the Conference on Aerial Navigation (M.N. Forney, ed.), Chicago, IL, Aug. 1-4, 1893, Published by the American Engineer and Railroad Journal, pp. 247-249.
  23. ^ Montgomery, John J. (1894) “Discussion of the Various Papers on Soaring Flight,” Aeronautics Vol. 1, No. 10, pp. 127-128, July.
  24. ^ Forgotten Aviation Pioneer: California's Own John J. Montgomery
  25. ^ Howard, F. Wilbur and Orville London: Hale, 1987 ISBN 0-7090-3244-7 p.177
  26. ^ U.S. Patent #831,173
  27. ^ #711: Montgomery Memorial, Otay Mesa(32.577449 -117.052631)
  28. ^ Montgomery-Waller Recreation Center, San Diego, California
  29. ^ #813: Montgomery Hill, San Jose)(37.302289 -121.758084)
  30. ^ Pizarro: Evergreen artwork honors valley's pioneer of flight - San Jose Mercury News at
  31. ^ City and County of San Francisco, Board of Supervisors, Municipal Record 12, no. 1 (1919), pg 394
  32. ^
  33. ^
  34. ^ John J. Montgomery Elementary School, Chula Vista, California
  35. ^ John J. Montgomery Elementary School, San Jose, California
  36. ^ Montgomery Middle School, San Diego, California
  37. ^ Montgomery High School, San Diego, California
  38. ^ Montgomery Middle School, San Diego, California
  39. ^
  40. ^
  41. ^

Other Sources[edit]

  • The Montgomery Aeroplane, Scientific American, May 20, 1904, pp. 404.
  • Most Daring Test of Flying-Machine Ever Made, Popular Mechanics, June Vol. 7, No. 6, 1905.
  • The Montgomery Aeroplane, Popular Mechanics, July Vol. 7, No. 7, 1905 pp. 703–707.
  • Josselyn, Winsor He Flew in 1883, Harper's Magazine, Vol. 181, June, 1940.
  • Spearman, Arthur Dunning John J. Montgomery: Father of Basic Flying. Santa Clara University 1967 and 2nd ed. 1977.
  • Harwood, Craig S. and Fogel, Gary B. Quest for Flight: John J. Montgomery and the Dawn of Aviation in the West. University of Oklahoma Press 2012.

External links[edit]