Aviation pioneer and former Santa Clara University Professor John Montgomery was honored at a special event on campus in June after being inducted into the National Soaring Museum Hall of Fame.
A plaque honoring Montgomery’s induction was given to University President Paul Locatelli, S.J., at a ceremony attended by about 50 people. Montgomery is considered to be the first person in the Western Hemisphere to fly a heavier-than-air aircraft, making his first flights near San Diego in 1883 or 1884. He attended Santa Clara in 1874 as a student, and returned as a physics professor in 1896, continuing his experiments on campus.
Despite Montgomery’s many accomplishments, the Elmira, N.Y.- based Hall of Fame focused on East Coast pioneers, according to Dick Huppertz, a glider aficionado who lives in Los Angeles. Huppertz, relying on SCU’s archives for much of his research, convinced the Hall of Fame to induct Montgomery last year. Montgomery’s glider designs were years ahead of their time, Huppertz said. “Santa Clara University deserves a lot of credit,” Huppertz said. “They gave Montgomery a relatively light teaching schedule and gave him a workshop.”
Montgomery built a tandem wing glider called the “Santa Clara” which he launched from Santa Clara College, as the University was then known. Today, a granite obelisk near Varsi Hall marks the spot where the glider was balloon-launched to 4,000 feet on March 16, 1905. The flight lasted 15 to 20 minutes and included several horizontal figure-eights, controlled turns and spirals. At the time, it was the highest flight ever by a manned aircraft.
The event was witnessed by hundreds of people, including members of the press.
Montgomery continued to experiment with gliders in the final years of his life. His last glider, the Evergreen, made 55 flights before Montgomery was killed after being struck by a bolt loosened from the glider in the Evergreen section of San Jose in October 1911.
The professor’s life story was made into the 1946 Hollywood movie, “Gallant Journey,” starring Glenn Ford and Janet Blair.