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It's Now a Complete Classic

Clipper Tabitha May

By Randy Dufault

July 28, 2016 - Robert Randazzo’s meticulously restored DC-3 was complete excepting one detail: its propeller blades were painted grey, a feature not shared by the post-war ships of Pan American Airways it is modeled after. Those planes sported polished paddles.

Now, after an overhaul of both propellers that included a mirror finish, the ship is complete. And the trip west, from her home in Manassas, Virginia, to get the work done, gave everyone here at EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2016 a chance to see the restored classic.

Scott Huff, who serves as a first officer on the craft, volunteered to lead chaperone duties for the airplane over the course of the week. He and other crew members are sharing the airplane’s rich history, much of which was spent here in Wisconsin.

Constructed as a Military C-47 too late in 1945 to participate in WWII, the Douglas was immediately declared surplus. It was converted to a DC-3C configuration and immediately pressed into corporate service for an East Coast company.

In 1953 Outboard Marine Manufacturing Corporation of Milwaukee purchased the plane. It served OMC’s executive travel needs for a very long time and when they finally decided to give it up in 1978, they donated it to EAA. The airplane ended up based here in Oshkosh.

A veritable who’s who of aviation is recorded in the ship’s log over the 10 years EAA owned it. But an opportunity came up to sell the relatively low-time airliner in 1988.

For the next seven years tourists viewed the Grand Canyon through its windows and in 1995 it, for the very first time, entered into scheduled passenger service with ERA Classic Airlines in Alaska.

“She was forced into retirement after 9/11 because of the requirement to have a ruggedized, impenetrable cockpit door,” Huff said. “That rendered it cost prohibitive to keep using it in commercial service.”

Randazzo, a retired airline captain, acquired the plane, refurbished it from nose to tail, and christened the craft Clipper Tabitha May. It is equipped with a modern flight deck that includes ADS-B and traffic collision avoidance system (TCAS) hardware. 

Since he regularly flies a Beechcraft B55 Baron, Huff’s multi-engine experience convinced Randazzo to take him on as a volunteer crew member.

“I started training to be [second in command] qualified, which required not only learning to operate the DC-3, but to operate in a crew resource environment,” Huff said. “[Randazzo] operates the airplane like he flew commercial jets … so it was a lot of fun learning how to be an airline first officer as well as learn the DC-3.” 

Beyond its personal and business transport mission, the plane visits a number of aviation events in the Virginia area over the course of a year. Randazzo, Huff and other members of the crew dress for the events in authentic 1945 Pan American Airways uniforms.

Huff said he enjoys his time in the right seat of the airplane.

“There is not a greater sound than to have those Pratt and Whitneys running at 2050 rpm while traveling along at 145 knots,” he said. “It is just a majestic ride. We refer to her as the grand old girl because … she just majestically lumbers along.”

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