State to mark anniversary of first flight in Georgia

LAWRENCEVILLE - The automobile was an uncommon luxury in 1907 when 19-year-old Ben Epps, owner of Athens' first auto repair garage, flew an airplane of his own design 50 feet above a field in Athens. Only four years after the Wright Brothers successful flight at Kitty Hawk, Epps' 100-yard-long flight marked the beginning of aviation in Georgia, and gave Epps (1888-1937) a place in history as the state's first aviator.

Epps' youngest son, Pat, owner of Epps Aviation at Peachtree DeKalb Airport in Chamblee, will help commemorate the centennial anniversary of aviation in Georgia with a special program encompassing his father's works.

Born in Oconee County and an electrical contractor by trade, Epps was inspired by the Wright brothers and fascinated by motor-driven, heavier than air flying machines. Epps' aircraft used bicycle wheels and its design allowed him to sit up in a buggy seat, unlike the Wrights' airplane in which the pilot lay prone on one of the double wings. A replica of one of his later inventions is on display at the Museum of Aviation in Warner Robins.

Epps Flying Field, located three miles from Athens, became Georgia's first civilian airport, according to New Georgia Encyclopedia.

Epps was killed in an airplane crash when Pat was 3 years old, said Joel Levine, spokesman for the celebration, but his mother encouraged her children to fly. At age 15, Epps won the Southeastern Free Flight Model Sailplane contest. His five brothers and one of his three sisters earned their pilot's licenses.

Saturday's free program begins at 10:30 a.m. with a pancake breakfast served at 8 a.m. Ample aircraft and auto parking is available.

SideBar: If you go

What: "Celebrating 100 Years of Aviation in Georgia"

When: 10:30 a.m. Saturday. All you can eat pancake breakfast starts at 8 a.m.

Where: Briscoe Field, Experimental Aircraft Association's Sport Aviation Center, 690 Airport Road, Lawrenceville