Pat Epps directed the spectacular recovery of a WW II fighter buried beneath 256 feet of the Greenland ice cap. He is a native of Athens, Georgia, and the youngest son of Ben T. Epps, Georgia aviation pioneer. At age three his father was killed in an airplane crash, but his mother still encouraged her children to fly. At age fifteen, Epps won the Southeastern Free Flight Model Sailplane contest. In high school, Epps worked in an auto maintenance shop and, at the same time, carried on the family’s love of aviation. His five brothers and one of his three sisters received their pilot’s licenses. He took flying lessons from his brother, Doug, and soloed a Piper J-3 Cub. Epps entered college at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, Georgia.
During summers he worked in a machine shop in Yakima, Washington, and graduated from “Georgia Tech ” in 1956 with a degree in Mechanical Engineering. He headed west to work as a flight test engineer for Boeing in Seattle on the prototype of the 707, America’s first jet airliner. Epps entered the United States Air Force in 1957 and began flight training. As a distinguished graduate of Class 58L, he became the fifth of Ben Epps’ sons to become a military pilot. Assigned to transports, he first flew the Boeing C-97 Stratofreighter and later the Fairchild C-123 Provider. He left the service in 1963 and two years later bought a small air service at Dekalb-Peachtree Airport near Atlanta. He started Epps Air Service with just 19 employees, and today his 140 workers provide flight training, aircraft maintenance, aircraft sales, fuel servicing, and air charter.
He does contract flying in the northeast for the U.S. Federal Reserve System utilizing 10 Mitsubishi MU-2s and a Cessna Citation. Epps has 7,000 hours as a commercial pilot with type ratings in the North American B-25 Mitchell, Douglas DC-3 Gooney Bird, Learjet, and Cessna Citation. For fun, he flies his aerobatic Beechcraft Bonanza in local air shows and tells tales of his adventures during the 11-year quest to recover the “Lost Squadron” from under the Greenland ice cap. The adventure is an incredible story, including the recovery of a piece of the B-17 bearing the name of Phyllis Arleen.
In 1942 the plane’s pilot, Joe Hanna, had painted the name in honor of his wife. Epps was able to present the momento to Hanna’s widow on NBC’s “Today” show. She, in turn, handed over the keys to the door of the bomber, which had been staying in her basement for decades. In June 1994, Epps piloted a friend’s DC-3 to France. As he flew over Normandy, veteran WW II paratroopers jumped to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the D-Day landings.