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Quest for Flight — why isn’t John J. Montgomery given credit for finding it?

25 October 2013

Quest for Flight — why isn’t John J. Montgomery given credit for finding it?

Quest for Flight: John J. Montgomery and the dawn of aviation in the West, Craig S. Harwood and Gary B. Fogel, 2012, ISBN 9780806142647, 256 pp.

Quest for Flight: John J. Montgomery and the dawn of aviation in the West by Craig S. Harwood and Gary B. Fogel ??? cover design ???

Quest for Flight: John J. Montgomery and the dawn of aviation in the West by Craig S. Harwood and Gary B. Fogel

Ten years, a decade, before the famed Percy Pilcher and Otto Lilienthal were flying their gliders for seconds over the downward slope of hills there was John J. Montgomery. He was mastering heavier-than-air flying which was under control in roll as well as in pitch with lateral stability as well as flying for nearly a quarter of an hour per flight (though many were for seconds at a time to be sure) — leagues ahead of those who would come so many years later.

Yet, few have read about his engineering work or the impressive demonstrations by his pilot. One of the most impressive flights was when a piloted Montgomery glider dropped from a balloon 4000 feet (1212m) above ground level, flew for almost 15 minutes while reversing turns and performing figure-eights — such dynamic flying would not be done again until well after the first powered and controlled flight by the Wright Brothers in 1903.

Why is John J. Montgomery not lauded in the annals of history? Why have Montgomery gliders not been prominently honored and exhibited in museums? A few places in California, where Montgomery lived and worked, do so but outside of the state there is little to see or educate. Why did his advanced developments become forgotten and require reinvention?

Authors Craig S. Harwood (a descendant of Montgomery) and Gary B. Fogel have written Quest for Flight answering these questions and so much more. We learn that Montgomery was extremely intelligent as well as diligent. He studied bird flight and learned cambered wings were significant to the physics of flying. Montgomery also evolved from wing warping to ailerons as well as worked with electrical power in other endeavors — while serving as a professor at Santa Clara College (later Santa Clara University). Family history is also told and is fascinating to read.

There is also tragedy and intrigue as in the death of Montgomery’s trusted pilot and friend, Daniel J. Maloney. Throughout the book we see the thinking of Montgomery as well as the politics and business practices of the day he was forced to experienced.

We also learn of the effectiveness of the Wright Patent Battles and disinformation which, until recently, have kept Montgomery from receiving the recognition he deserves as the first designer of a successful heavier-than-air aircraft that could be flown under control with active control surfaces.

Harwood and Fogel have done well correcting the historical record as well as charting Montgomery’s aeronautical design progress with accurate clear text as well as photographs. This book is one to have in any library concerned with aviation’s history and is wonderfully produced using archival paper — like Montgomery’s accomplishments, this book and the story within will endure.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. 30 October 2013 13:56

    “Quest for Flight” has just achieved “Runner Up” in the Regional Literature Award through the Great Midwest Book Festival book award program.

    • travelforaircraft permalink
      31 October 2013 13:59

      Congratulations and kudos. Considering the quality of “Quest for Flight” the category winners must be amazing.


  1. John J. Montgomery — inexplicably forgotten to aviation’s history | Travel for Aircraft

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