Quest for Flight: John J. Montgomery and the Dawn of Aviation in the West

. November 2012. 256p. 978-0-80614-426-7. 29.95.
Harwood (a distant relative of John J. Montgomery) and Fogel (Wind and Wings: The History of Soaring in San Diego) effectively trace their subject’s determined efforts in pioneering aerial navigation. Beginning with Montgomery’s initial 1883 flights near San Diego, they chronicle his work through a series of ever-improved glider designs. These tests culminated in 1905 with successful controlled flights in northern California employing tandem-wing craft released from hot-air balloons. The authors also offer a fine exploration of Montgomery’s crowded personal life and his interaction with air-minded peers; his nonaeronautical scientific projects; his continuing lack of sufficient research funds; and his inclination to protect his intellectual property with legal challenges; among other topics. Montgomery perished in a crash on October 31, 1911, at the age of 51. An epilog includes an account of his heirs’ unsuccessful patent-infringement lawsuits against the Wright-Martin Corporation and the federal government. In 1946 Orville Wright supporters, according to Harwood and Fogel, engaged in a vindictive letter-writing campaign to stop production of a motion picture featuring the life of Montgomery; their efforts failed and Gallant Journey was produced.
VERDICT A solidly researched biography of a little-known turn-of-the century aerodynamicist and flyer compellingly framed against the broader tapestry of Western science and aviation. Highly recommended.

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