Epps
Ben T. Epps

Ben T.Epps (1888 - 1937)

Dropping out of Georgia Institute of Technology in 1906, Ben T. Epps, who had been born in nearby Oconee County, opened a bicycle shop in downtown .Athens. A year later, he flew the first airplane in the State of Georgia--a monoplane he had begun designing when he was sixteen, only two years after the successful flight of Wilbur and Orville Wright at Kitty Hawk., North Carolina. He built the craft in his shop on Washington Street in Athens. Later, the self-taught aviator, aircraft designer and builder, opened a garage where he worked as an electrical contractor, mechanic, and, of course, airplane designer and builder. Over the next 20 years, he designed and built seven planes, including the Epps Lightplane, which he sold to a New Yorker for one thousand dollars in 1926. His 1924 monoplane, powered by a 2 cylinder motorcycle engine, had a wingspan of 25 feet and weighed only 350 pounds. Easy to fly, inexpensive to operate, the plane logged 25 miles per gallon at 60 miles per hour. Epps operated an airport and flying service on the present site of Athens Clarke County Airport from 1917 until 1937, when he died of injuries received in a crash after take-off in Athens. Fifty years later, in 1987, the field was named in his honor. Epps had the devotion and support of his wife and family; his oldest son soloed at age 13 in 1929, and eight of his nine children are or have been aviators.

Ben T. Epps was enshrined August 26, 1989, for his contributions as a pioneer in aviation; Georgia's First in Flight.