You think of man-made flight – the first ever – and what name pops up? Likely it’s the Wright Brothers.
Orville and Wilbur made a huge mark on aviation, but one Bay Area group is contesting their title of being the first to successfully control a heavier-than-air human flight. John Giddings, an investor and a pilot, and Veronica Cravens, producer, say that honor should go to the Bay Area’s own John Joseph Montgomery.
Montgomery was a professor at Santa Clara College, as it was known back then in the late 1800s, who devoted his life to engineering heavier-than-air aircrafts.
Jeffery Bass, CEO of the Hiller Aviation Museum in San Carlos, said Montgomery went beyond others’ efforts by trying to figure out how to control and steer the gliders. In fact, his earliest glider flown in 1883 had parabolic wings, an advanced design compared to his peers. Replicas of Montgomery’s three gliders are featured in the front of the museum.
For Cravens, this is easily an East Coast versus West Coast story.
The Wright Brothers from the Midwest became popular on the East Coast; that name is inked in the U.S. history books for elementary school students across the country.
Giddings, a Santa Clara University alumni, is using Kickstarter to fundraise $4,500 in seed money to research and complete a script he’s hoping will turn into a multi-million dollar feature film. One of his main objectives is simple: to make sure that kids everywhere begin to know and recognize the Montgomery name.
“The Wright brothers got established, the Wright airplane company – they wanted to have credit and wanted to protect their patents, so they would tell a story that left out Montgomery," Giddings said.
Craven took it a step further, calling it an obvious cover-up of a scandal.
“Certain entities that shall not be named don’t want to admit that there is a scandal going on, that there is something to talk about - and we are going to talk about it,” Craven said.
In fact, there were countless people devoted to the same goal of trying to create manmade flight in and out of the U.S. Craven added, “We’re not taking anything away from Wright brothers, they have done their diligence but they did it in such a way where they’re not giving anyone else credit. They have kind of monopolized the whole aviation realm and that’s not true – there were dozens of people who did not know about each other doing the exact same thing at the exact same time so we’re just bringing that to light.”
The story is also rich with Bay Area history. Many of Montgomery’s experimental flights took place in San Jose.
“In the Eastern part of San Jose, there’s a part called Evergreen. There’s a hill there and he actually flew some of his glider flights out on that hill,” Bass said.
He added his admiration for Montgomery stems from the risk-taking that ultimately ended his life. Montgomery died when his third and final glider, named “The Evergreen,” got tangled in some cables and sent the aircraft crashing.
“He wasn’t just trying to be the first to do something. He was really trying to be part of the stream of science that made aviation possible,” said Bass. “I admire anyone who basically goes to such efforts to pursue their dream, and he had the dream of flight.”