Montgomery’s Aeroplane
First Heavier than Air, Controllable Flight
Mary Ann Henderson

John Joseph Montgomery was the first American to build a glider that flew. He was also the first to achieve practical control of his craft in the air. He began his experiments in 1883, and, by 1905, was giving public demonstrations in and around the Santa Clara Valley. Montgomery studied and tested his aeroplanes in between college teaching assignments in Northern California. He earned his Ph.D. from Santa Clara College in 1901.

Montgomery used hot-air balloons to lift his glider into the air. After being released from the balloon, the “aeroplane” could be piloted to Earth.  A circus daredevil that parachuted from balloons, Daniel John Maloney, approached him, saying, "I will have a balloon hoist me in your aeroplane to the four-thousand foot level, then I'll cut it loose and glide to the ground." Maloney's first flight, a twenty-minute graceful descent, was a delight to behold.

Montgomery’s most spectacular demonstration was when his monoplane glider, Santa Clara, was cut loose from a balloon several thousand feet in the air and flew 8 miles (13 km) in 1905.  Montgomery Hill in the Evergreen Valley is named after him and is the place where in 1911, after a crash landing, he met his end cradled in the arms of his bride.

A special thanks goes to E. Charles Vivian and his History of Aeronautics and Theodore W. Fuller for his San Diego Originals.