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Epps, Ben

Aviator Benjamin (Ben) T. Epps was born in Oconee County, Georgia on February 20, 1888. While he was very young, his family moved to nearby Athens, Epps attended Georgia Tech for one year, but dropped out and returned to Athens, where he lived and worked for the rest of his life. Epps was a talented mechanic who learned to repair electronic equipment and cars—both of which were quickly becoming popular. However, Epps’ true love was the idea of flying. In 1907, he opened Athens’ first garage, where he and his partner Z.A. Huff, built and flew his own airplane—a monoplane—in 1909, becoming the first person to fly in Georgia.

By the end of World War I, Epps had either built or purchased the planes necessary to start a flying service. Epps and a partner rented some land in then rural Clarke County and established Georgia’s first airport in 1919. He continued to experiment with different designs while running his service—transporting passengers, training pilots, and staging air shows. Some of Epps’ innovative designs were precursors of the light, economical planes that became popular many years after his death. On October 16, 1937, the 49-year-old Epps died from injuries sustained when a plane he was testing crashed. In his honor, Georgia’s first airport in Athens was renamed Ben Epps Field. Later, Epps was named to the Georgia Aviation Hall of Fame. He is buried in Oconee Hill Cemetery in Athens.

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