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Part of The Airplane Restaurant in Colorado Springs is housed in a restored Boeing KC-97 tanker once used by the U.S. Air Force and the Texas Air Guard. Credit: Terri Cook and Lon Abbott

Only in Colorado: The Airplane Restaurant

The World War-era Stratofreighter is undoubtedly one of Colorado's most unusual—and interesting—places to enjoy a meal.

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Keep your peanuts and soggy sandwiches—this Colorado Springs novelty gives “airplane food” a whole new meaning.

The Airplane Restaurant, opened in 2002, is literally a diner inside the belly of a restored KC-97 tanker. Get ready for the aviation trivia: Built by Boeing between 1944 and 1958, the KC-97 is a World War II-era model that was used by the U.S. Air Force for long-range cargo and troop transport. With the addition of two extra engines, it was also frequently converted into a refueling tanker. Due to their slower cruising speed, however, it was difficult for the converted KC-97s to refuel B-52 bombers and other swift jets. To get around this problem, the planes connected at high altitude and then simultaneously entered a shallow dive, allowing the tanker to pick up more speed in a maneuver known as “toboganning.”

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Dining in the interior of the KC-97 is popular with kids and aviation buffs of all ages. Credit: Terri Cook and Lon Abbott

Built in 1953, the Airplane Restaurant’s namesake, which has been outfitted with seven rows of comfortable booths, refueled aircraft around the globe and once nearly had to ditch in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean near the remote Azore islands. Fortunately, the crew made it back safely, and the plane finished its service to our country in the Texas Air Guard, the name of which is still emblazoned on the shiny silver exterior.

In 2001, former pilot Steve Kanatzar and his wife Debbie purchased the plane and pressed it back into service, this time as a unique dining venue located next to the Colorado Springs Airport. The restaurant features colorful model airplanes dangling from the ceiling, servers dressed as flight attendants, and Philly Flyers, Barrel Rolls, and other made-from-scratch, aviation-themed offerings on the extensive menu.

You can eat inside the plane (call ahead to reserve a spot) or in the adjacent, spacious “terminal” building, which has walls plastered with hundreds of historic aeronautical photos and artifacts from the KC-97’s last flight logbook to a signed photo of astronaut John Glenn emerging from his Friendship 7 capsule. This makes it a great place to bring aviation buffs of all ages, including kids who will enjoy exploring the cockpit while the adult passengers savor the selection of beer, fruity margaritas, and other refreshing “jet fuels.”

The “terminal” portion of the restaurant, which was built around one of the airplane’s wings, features a large collection of aeronautical memorabilia. Credit: Terri Cook and Lon Abbott

Visit: The Airplane Restaurant is open daily from 11 a.m, to 9 p.m. 1665 North Newport Road, Colorado Springs; 719-570-7656

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