AT A GLANCE
“Quest for Flight”
By Craig S. Harwood and Gary B. Fogel
$29.95 on www.amazon.com
Manresa State Beach in Aptos was one of the testing grounds for John J. Montgomery, the man who is credited in the recent historical novel “Quest for Flight” as one of the founders of aviation in the west.
Some of the first controlled flights — unmanned gliders — were launched off a railroad trestle at Manresa State Beach in Aptos in December 1903, around the time the famous Wright brothers were flying their first engine-powered planes at Kittyhawk, N.C.
Ben Lomond author Craig Harwood penned the novel with co-author Gary Fogel, of San Diego.
“His planes proved fully controllable and safe,” Harwood said. “It was sort of like Kittyhawk of the west.”
Harwood, an engineering geologist, started looking into Montgomery’s story as a hobby because of his interest in flight and because he is the great-great-grandson of Zachariah Montgomery, the father of John J. Montgomery.
“I have always been interested in his story,” Harwood said. “I met a guy in San Diego who wrote a book on gliding history. He thought there was more to (Montgomery’s) story.”
For eight years, Harwood and Fogel researched and wrote the book, which was published in late 2012 by University of Oklahoma Press and climbed to the top of the publisher’s bestsellers.
Harwood’s research revealed that Montgomery was one of the technological leaders of early flight but never received the credit he was due.
While a professor at Santa Clara College, Montgomery designed propeller technology that was adopted by a business partner, Thomas S. Baldwin, who used it to successfully drive the first manned hot-air balloons from one point to another and back, winning first prize at the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis and landing personal fame.
In 1905, a glider belonging to Montgomery, manned by a hired pilot, was lifted by a hot-air balloon on the Aptos coast to as high as 3,000 feet and released — only to return to earth at a specific landing zone under control of the pilot. It was the first public flight of a “heavier-than-air” craft and was publicized throughout the United States.
“There was no one doing these types of flight in the world,” Harwood said. “He solved human-controlled flight on his own.”
In addition to wowing Montgomery’s contemporaries, the technology eventually influenced Glen Curtiss, the founder of the first aviation company in the United States, and also the brothers who formed the famous Lockheed Corp.
“Quest for Flight” has been submitted as a candidate for four awards and is on its third printing in five months, Harwood said.
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