John Joseph Montgomery, having studied birds upon which he based his aerodynamic principles and designs, likely made the first human-carrying glider flight in America. On August 28, 1883, it is believed he took flight in his monoplane glider and flew 600 feet at a height of 15 feet on Wheeler Hill in Otay Mesa, near San Diego. Although photographs or other evidence did not document this feat, eyewitnesses swore to it.
Montgomery later recorded his experience, “...I took this apparatus to the top of a hill facing a gentle wind. There was a little run and a jump and I found myelf launched in the air. A particular sensation came over me. The first feeling in placing myself at the mercy of the wind was that of fear. Immediately after came a feeling of security when I realized the solid support given by the wing surface. And that support was of a very peculiar nature. There was a cushiony softness about it, yet it was firm. When I found the machine would follow any movement in the seat for balancing, I felt I was self-buoyant…”
Montgomery began serious work in aeronautics in 1881-82, developing models with flat wing surfaces. When these proved unsatisfactory, he patterned the lifting surfaces of his models after the curved wings of birds.
Montgomery was the first person to use the term “aeroplane” and wrote a booklet with that title. He was granted the first “aeroplane” patent in 1906. For the next 28 years, he continued his study and experimentation with gliders. His achievements earned him the title “Father of Basic Flying.” Montgomery’s last and most advanced aircraft, the Evergreen, was the one in which he met his untimely death.
The Evergreen was a monoplane glider with a conventional tail and the pilot seated below the wing. The aircraft had fixed vertical and horizontal fins and a single wing of complex curvature. The leading edge of the wing was rigid; the trailing edge was movable up and down. At first, the craft was controlled by levers, but after initial flights Montgomery installed a control wheel. Mounted on four wheels, the aircraft was launched from a track. Glider flights began on October 17, 1911, in preparation for the addition of an engine for powered flight. Most of the 55 glides were successful and approximately 800 feet in length. On October 31, after making an adjustment to the angle of the horizontal stabilizer, Montgomery was again airborne. Flying at an altitude of less than 20 feet, the Evergreen stalled, side-slipped, came down on the right wing tip, and turned over. Montgomery hit his head on an exposed bolt and died two hours later.
The Evergreen Glider on display was restored using many of the original parts. The restoration was sponsored by the Security Pacific Bank, and the glider is displayed in the Dawn of Flight gallery.