Foil: 34 Panel: 1 Column: 1 Line: 20
Wall of Honor Level: Air and Space Leader
Mr. Pat Epps
Ben Epps of Athens, Georgia, had much in common with Wilbur and Orville Wright. Like the Wright brothers, Mr. Epps had a bicycle shop where he built and repaired bicycles. And like the Wright brothers, he built and flew his own airplanes.
In 1905, Mr. Epps dropped out of Georgia Tech to open his bicycle shop in Athens. He was also an electrical contractor, and his small shop on Washington Street doubled as a garage where he tinkered with motorcycles and early automobiles.
As early as 1905, Ben Epps was at work on a flying machine. In 1907, he was photographed outside his shop with the first plane he had completed. The first attempt to get the machine off the ground and into the air failed, but the second attempt was successful. The plane got up about 40 or 50 feet and maintained its flight about 100 yards, making Epps Georgia's pioneer in the sky. Epps designed and built six different aircraft between 1907 and 1930.
In 1919 Epps and L.M. (Monte) Rolfe established the Rolfe-Epps Flying Service in Athens to offer passenger flights, flying instruction and aerial photography. During these year Mr. Epps also bought, repaired and sold other aircraft. His Epps Light Monoplane he built in 1924 weighed 350 pounds had a two cylinder motorcycle engine, a speed of 60 mph and got 25 miles to the gallon.
Mr. Epps began teaching his growing family of children to fly, and Ben, Jr., the oldest son, soloed at age 13 in 1929. Ben, Jr. established a record which led to a White House reception for him by President Hoover in 1931. Eight of his nine children are or have been aviators. Five of his six sons were military pilots, all six involved in various phases of aviation. His youngest son, E. Patrick Epps, is president of Epps Aviation at DeKalb-Peachtree Airport in Atlanta, Georgia.
Ben Epps was critically injured in a crash at Athens in 1935 and in 1937, fatally injured in a take-off crash at the Athens airport, which is now named in his honor. His wife, Omie Williams Epps, was a staunch supporter of his interest and adventures in aviation. Following his death, she encouraged their children to actively participate in their father's chosen field.
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