Chicago, April 4, 1905
I have yours of March 26th. I herewith enclose the original ms. of my article for Moedebeck. You can keep it as long as you like.
Have you received the March issue of the Illus. Mitteilungen (Moedebeck's)? It contains an article by Dienstbach, which I have not yet succeeded in getting translated, giving a picture of your flying machine and apparently exact data of performances.
I enclose an account1 of a bold performance in California. I will write to Montgomery for particulars.
By "utilizing of currents" with flapping wings, I mean that the upstroke drags a certain amount of air with it, and this being met the downstroke increases its effectiveness.
I do not know of any prairie grounds where both seclusion and large spaces exist, save possibly the Kankakee Marshes. It might be worth your while to examine them. I think they are being drained.
I see by the newspapers that the French are meeting with very slender success in repeating gliding experiments.
1 This was apparently a clipping from the Chicago Record Herald of Mar. 27, 1905, containing a story of Maloney's tests of the Montgomery machine. It concluded with a bracketed paragraph in which Chanute, in an interview on March 26, Was reported to have said that, though the "aeroplane method" offered "one of the possible solutions of the Problem" of flight, he did not believe the experiments sponsored by Prof. Montgomery and Father R. H. Bell, of Santa Clara College, would "reveal anything new.,,
Chanute wrote Montgomery, April 4, 1905, stating that he had seen accounts of Montgomery's experiments in the newspapers, and inviting him to renew the correspondence they had carried on briefly in 1893 1895. Montgomery replied on April 11, 1905. The last Montgomery letter among the Chanute Papers in the Library of Congress is dated July 10, 1906.
John J. Montgomery (1858 1911) occupies a place in aviation literature that ill accords with his real importance, which is negligible. The facts, which contrast strangely with the legend, are found in the court records of a long and involved patent infringement suit (1917 1925) brought and lost by Montgomery's heirs against the Government in an effort to invalidate the Wright and other patents under which the United States was then operating and commissioning aeroplanes:
"As a young man in his twenties, while located on a ranch near San Diego, during the years 1883 to 1886, Montgomery is said to have become interested in the soaring of birds and to have carried on some experiments which included the construction of aeroplane models, with one or more of which he unsuccessfully attempted to glide. . . .
"The failure of his early experiments appears to have discouraged Montgomery and to have led him to abandon for many years any actual aeroplane work. . . . Montgomery did nothing whatever from 1886 until at least the latter part of 1903 (and then nothing substantial) by way of construction of or experimentation with aeroplanes. . . .
"In 1894 Montgomery took a 'job' as an assistant at St. Joseph College, Humboldt County, California. This was a small school with fifteen pupils. He remained there until some time in 1898 . From 1898, until killed in one of his gliders in 1911, he was located at Santa Clara College, Santa Clara, California.
"The expressions 'College' and 'Professor' are somewhat misleading. Santa Clara College at that time was little more than a school, the pupils ranging in age from boys of ten to twenty years. For a while Montgomery taught one class in arithmetic for an hour every day. Later he assisted Father Bell in the Physics Department as a 'mere collaborator.' 'Professor' in that locality was a common complimentary title. . . .
Following 1886 . . . and up to 1903, the only attention whatever paid by Montgomery to the subject of aeronautics appears to have been through the conduct of some trivial experiments with air and water currents and the examination and measurements of the wings of birds and insects. . . .
"In 1903 Montgomery met a balloonist named Thomas S. Baldwin, who had come to California in connection with the construction of a dirigible balloon. . . . Baldwin suggested that large profits might be made through public exhibitions if Montgomery could put some of his 'ideas' in 'Practical form' and could provide an aeroplane capable of being dropped from a balloon with an aeronaut instead of the customary parachute. . . . [By] April 1904, Baldwin and Montgomery had entered into a written agreement, by which they were to carry on experiments with a view to producing an aeroplane capable of being dropped from a balloon. . . .
"In 1905 Montgomery became displeased with Baldwin's apparent inattention and . . . claimed that Baldwin had stolen some of his ideas relating to air propellers and used them on his dirigible balloons; also that Baldwin had tampered with his aeroplane on the occasion of an unsuccessful attempt to ,fly.' This resulted in a suit by Montgomery against Baldwin. . . . A counter libel suit was filed by Baldwin on his return from Oregon where he had been at the time of the attempted flight and alleged tampering, but all suits were soon dropped. . . .
"After losing Baldwin's assistance, Montgomery . . . obtained the services of [Charles K.] Hamilton, a balloonist, and [Daniel] Maloney, a parachute jumper, working for Hamilton. . . . Several experiments in 'flights' from Hamilton's balloon were made. . . . On March 16, 1905, Maloney cut loose at a height of about 500 feet. He became frightened and tried to jump out of the machine, but was strapped in. He clung to the sides and descended in rapid spirals, narrowly escaped hitting the Leonard house, and landed in ail apple tree. In a second at tempt, made a day or two later, Maloney is claimed to have descended without accident from a height of about 1,200 feet. . . .
"Following these foolhardy experiments, . . . Montgomery returned to Santa Clara, where . . . he built another machine and prepared for a public exhibition, which was given on April 29, 1905.
"Meantime, however, he prepared and filed his patent application, which was executed April 18, 1905, and filed April 26, 1905. [It was granted September 18, 1906.] . . .
"None of the witnesses of the 'flight' performed by Montgomery on April 29th is able to give any accurate data. . . . All that can be gathered . . . is that, on the grounds of Santa Clara College, in the presence of a number of people, including press representatives, Montgomery, assisted by Hamilton, let loose the hot air balloon to which the aeroplane was attached; . . . and that Maloney, after ascending to a height variously estimated, cut loose and thereafter descended and luckily reached the ground without accident. . . . According to the best evidence available, the controls for the wings were so arranged as to be incapable of use . . . , the only steering attempted by Maloney being had by throwing his weight to one side or the other. . . .
"Spurred by the hope of profit, Montgomery continued these reckless circus stunts and staged another exhibition on the grounds of Santa Clara College on July 18, 1905. Here the inevitable happened. Maloney went up to a considerable height and cut loose, but, after attempting Some Maneuvers, came down with a crash and was killed. . . . There is little doubt but what this accident was due to the inability of Montgomery's machine to sustain a negative or top load on the wings, spiral instability, and faulty design. . . ." (Montgomery et al. vs. the United States, p. 11941.)
Even this fatality did not put an end to Montgomery's exhibitions, and another nearly fatal demonstration was carried out at Idora Park, Oakland, California, on February 22, 1906, with a young man named Willkie acting as operator. Nearly six years later, in 1911, while attempting to resume his "gliding" experiments, Montgomery lost his life when operating an "improved" machine of his design and "was caught and crushed beneath the tangle of wreckage and broken wings."
Wilbur Wright to Octave Chanute,
April 12, 1905