The National Business Aviation Association could hardly have picked a more deserving recipient for this year’s Doswell Award than Georgia resident E. Patrick “Pat” Epps, president of Epps Aviation, especially with the convention being held in Atlanta this year as Georgia celebrates its 100th anniversary of powered flight. Named for John P. “Jack” Doswell, the award recognizes lifelong individual achievement on behalf and in support of the aims, goals and objectives of business aviation.
Epps’ connection to aviation goes back well before he was even born. His father, aviation pioneer Ben Epps, was the first person to fly an airplane in the state of Georgia (a canard craft of his own design) in 1907. An electrical contractor in Athens, he liked “tinkering with airplanes,” in the words of his granddaughter, Elaine Persons. He had eight airplane designs and sold airplanes. The airport in Athens is named for him.
Pat, the youngest son, was only three when his father was killed in an airplane crash in 1937. All his brothers and sisters except one learned to fly, and today, two daughters, Persons and Marian Epps, and a son, Pat Jr., work at Epps Aviation at Atlanta DeKalb-Peachtree Airport (PDK), where the company has been based for 42 years. Pat’s wife Anne is vice president. Persons handles marketing and employee benefits, Marian is CFO and Pat Jr. is involved with Pilatus PC-12 sales and service. Persons’s husband Gus is maintenance administrator.
Pat Epps soloed in a Piper J-3 Cub in 1952. His first job in aviation was as a flight engineer for Boeing on the prototype of the 707. He then served in the military, as did five of Ben Epps’ six sons. During his Air Force service, he flew C-97s and Fairchild 123s. In 1965, when Mooney was looking for a dealer, he signed up and opened Epps Air Service. Business today has rarely been better, said Persons, with 200 employees and expected growth in aircraft management. Along with charter, sales, management, maintenance and line service, Epps Aviation is the exclusive Pilatus PC-12 distributor for the Southeastern U.S. and the Caribbean.
In addition to running a successful business, Epps devotes a lot of his time to the aviation community. He introduces people to aviation by giving rides and by performing at airshows in his aerobatic red, white and blue 1974 Bonanza, which he has owned since he picked it up from the Beech factory in 1975.
There’s no need to ask such a devoted aerobatic Bonanza pilot which airplane is his favorite to fly, but Epps said that the PC-12 takes the prize in the corporate category. He also flew a ski-equipped DC-3 in Greenland, when he was co-leader of the Greenland Expedition Society, whose missions involved recovering a Lockheed P-38 Lightning that had been buried under the ice since 1942, when it was one of several World War II planes forced to land there. The P-38 (now known affectionately as Glacier Girl) was recovered in 1992 on the seventh expedition. Epps also flew a DC-3 to France for the 50th anniversary of D-Day and carried 26 veteran paratroopers for a nostalgic jump.
He is a member of the Aero Club of Metropolitan Atlanta and also supports Angel Flight and the Museum of Aviation in Warner Robbins, Ga. (where he has been on the board of directors of its Hall of Fame since its beginning). He served as chairman of NBAA’s local committee for the 1993 convention in Atlanta and is a member of this year’s local committee. He also received the NBAA American Spirit Award in 1999.