Above: Montgomery Obelisk at Santa Clara University
John Joseph Montgomery (1858 - 1911) made man's first controlled winged flight at Otay Mesa on Tuesday August 28, 1883 – 20 years before the Wright brothers. His natural curiosity and study of bird flight led him to employ parabolic-shaped, cambered wings that continue to provide the essential aerodynamic lift for all airplanes.
He was also an accomplished scientist and professor at Santa Clara College (now University) with diverse interests in the fields of electricity, telegraphy, astronomy, chemistry and physics – in which he developed several important patents.
John Montgomery’s Achievements in Flight:
• He was the first in the US to fly in his own gliders, beginning in 1883. • He was the first to discover how to exploit the airflow about a parabolic-shaped wing to achieve flight, from seminal research he conducted from 1885 to 1892. • From 1892 to 1904 he constructed small models for testing and then full-size gliders capable of carrying a pilot. He was the first to train pilots to fly. • In 1905, his tandem-wing Santa Clara glider made the first public flights from 3,000–4,000 feet, lofted there by a hot-air balloon. The pilot flew in circles, figure eights, up and down, even performing a side roll, with the pilot landing safely on his feet, “like stepping off a porch.” No other aeroplane then was capable of this. • He was awarded US Patent No. 831,173 on September 18, 1906, for “Aeroplane.” • In 1911, with backing from investors, he designed and built a completely new monoplane glider, The Evergreen, in preparation to adding a motor, but died in an accident during testing.
This website provides documentation and information to supplement our book, "Achieving Flight, The Life and Times of John J. Montgomery" – due out in the fall of 2017. John G. Burdick and Bernard J. Burdick
Our book tells the story of John J. Montgomery (1858-1911), an eminent scientist whose achievements in Aeronautics and Electricity have been largely forgotten. During his days as a student at St. Ignatius College in San Francisco, he was fortunate to be educated by renowned Jesuit scientists ousted from Europe, earning an MSc in physics in 1880.
What distinguishes our book about Montgomery is the critical analyses we provide of his prescient understanding of aeronautics relative to other practitioners and researchers prior to, during, and after his time. We not only cover his significant accomplishments in having his pilots fly successfully in high air (from 3,000–4,000 feet, lofted there by a hot-air balloon), we also evaluate the scientific correctness of his ideas that were decades ahead of the times. Our technical analyses have convinced us that there is much more to discover about Montgomery and his ideas and we hope our book will inspire others to reevaluate his importance to aeronautical history.