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Early flight captured in local book

Modified: Wednesday, Nov 21st, 2012

Craig Harwood of Ben Lomond shows his new book, "Quest for Flight: John J. Montgomery and the Dawn of Aviation in the West." (Photo by Tarmo Hannula/Register-Pajaronian).

APTOS — A Ben Lomond man has penned a book, in concert with a co-author, about his great-great uncle who engineered and tested an “aeroplane” that soared as high as 3,000 feet above Aptos in 1905.

“Quest for Flight,” by Craig Harwood, an engineering geologist, and Gary Fogel teamed up on the 16-chapter, 247-page hardbound book, whose first two publications have now sold out. A third batch is on the way.

“This is my first book and it was an intense seven-year project,” Harwood said. "It’s a biography of a prolific and important California-based inventor, whose life story is framed against the larger landscape of 19th century California and the great technological drama of the conquest of the skies."

Harwood said the book is based on exhaustive research and establishes California and the coastal California region in particular as the cradle of pioneering invention and achievement in the aerial realm of ballooning, airships and other flying machines.

“The story plays out against a background rich in California history in the later 19th century," Harwood said. “For me, the book was relatively easy to write — it’s merely a skill. To make the work accessible to a general audience is much more difficult and requires that you formulate a vision of what's compelling about the story and that you fold that compelling element into the story telling effectively. In the case of 'Quest for Flight,' the story involves a cavalcade of fascinating characters whose interaction and exploits flesh out the larger human drama.”

In 2005, the centennial of soaring flight was celebrated at Aptos Seascape Park. The event was headed up by the Aptos Chamber of Commerce and focused on Harwood’s great-great uncle, John J. Montgomery (1858-1911), a mathematics and science instructor at Santa Clara College, who engineered and tested an “aeroplane” that soared as high as 3,000 feet for 18 minutes in Aptos in March 1905.

Re-enactments, full-scale replicas, speakers, a monument dedication, music, food, entertainment and a parade filled the day to help give recognition to the famed inventor who predated the famed Wright brothers with his daring flights.

“No one had taken a craft up into the air with the aid of a balloon and cut it loose until my great-great-uncle did in numerous tests, including some in the Aptos area,” Harwood said in 2005. “It was a controlled, non-powered craft he called an aeroplane, and it weighed 42 pounds.”

Montgomery conducted three test flights in Aptos that were commonly manned by Daniel Maloney, a parachute jumper, stunt artist and exhibitionist.

At least 28 books about aviation history with numerous decade-by-decade accounts about Montgomery have been written, plus numerous articles in magazines and newspapers. “Father of Basic Flying” by Arthur D. Spearman is one of the most in-depth and accurate accounts, Harwood said. In 1946, “Gallant Journey,” a major motion picture exploring Montgomery’s achievements starring Glen Ford was released. In the 1940s Disney ran a series of cartoons based on the flights of Montgomery called “History of Flight.”

Harwood said he believes the history books of flying misrepresent what actually took place regarding the first controllable flights, adding that the Wright brothers got undue credit for the first manned controlled flight of a heavier-than-air machine. The Wright brothers earned fame Dec. 17, 1903, for the first powered flight.

Montgomery died while test-flying one of his monoplane gliders called the Evergreen in 1911.

Accolades on the dust jacket include words from Gary Kurutz, principal librarian, special collections at California State Library, Daniel Rust, author of “Flying Across America: The Airline Passenger Experience,” and Kevin Starr, author of “California: A History.”

Starr wrote, “Informed and vividly written, 'Quest for Flight' revises the chronology of aviation in America decades prior to 1903 and, in terms of geography, locates the emergence of a far, far shore from Kitty Hawk.”

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