Ben Epps (1888-1937) built and flew the first airplane in the state of Georgia. Athens acknowledged his contributions to aviation by naming its airport in Epps’ honor following his death in a test flight in 1937.
Benjamin Thomas Epps was born on February 20, 1888 in Oconee County, Georgia. The Epps family moved to Clarke County where their children could receive a better education. Epps briefly attended Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta before returning to Athens. In 1907, he established an electrical contracting business and later the town’s first automobile repair shop. Intrigued by news of the Wright brothers’ successful flight at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina in 1903, Epps embarked on a project to construct an airplane. He succeeded in 1907, and his first flight exceeded that of the Wright brothers by 250 feet. Following World War I, Epps exploited the availability of military surplus aircraft and veteran pilots to launch a new business venture. He and business partner, L. Monte Rolfe, established the Rolfe-Epps Flying Service in 1919. This enterprise provided a variety of aviation services including flying lessons. Epps also established Georgia’s first civilian airport – Epps Flying Field – now the site of the Athens-Ben Epps Airport. Ben Epps died in a test flight in Athens in 1937. His son, Ben Epps, Jr., continued his father’s legacy by flying a C-46 for the United States Army Air Corps during World War II.