A group of aviation buffs in Athens, Georgia, wants to give a pioneer Georgia pilot the recognition he deserves.
Admirers and descendants of Ben Epps, an Athens native who, in 1907, became the first Georgian to fly, are planning to erect a statue of Epps outside Athens City Hall, across the street from the bicycle shop where he built his first plane, reported Blake Aued in the June 24 Athens Banner-Herald.
“It’s recognizing Ben Epps and what he did,” said his grandson, Athens resident Billy Galt. “He was the first person to fly (in Georgia). He was an aviation pioneer. … There are still a lot of people who don’t know who he was.”
Epps was a tinkerer who is credited with perfecting ultralight airplane designs and popularizing aviation in Georgia. He died in a plane crash in 1938, but numerous relatives have followed in his footsteps, including sons Ben Epps Jr. and Pat Epps, both prominent in aviation today. He is not very well-known, partly because he was four years behind the Wrights, but also because those who knew him say he rarely sought publicity or financial gain.
An 18-member committee led by Galt is seeking permission from Athens-Clarke commissioners to put the statue outside City Hall. If they win approval, as expected, they will start to raise the $50,000 they need and hire a sculptor, Galt said. The statue will be a life-size bronze likeness of Epps in a flight suit, standing next to a propeller.
A historical marker already is at the site of Epps’ bicycle shop. The Epps committee also donated a bust in 2007 to Athens-Ben Epps Airport, the state’s first airfield, founded by Epps in 1917. A replica of Epps’ first plane, monoplane powered by a motorcycle engine, hangs in the airport lobby.
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