Review: The Airplane Restaurant, Colorado Springs

Filed Under: Family, Kids

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Review: The Airplane Restaurant, Colorado Springs
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After spending the night at the Radisson Hotel Colorado Springs Airportpartially to earn a shipload of Carlson points — we headed out to do a little sightseeing. The Colorado Springs area has a lot to offer in the way of attractions. There’s the US Olympic Training Center, the US Air Force Academy, and even Dr. Dobson’s Focus on the Family Welcome Center. You can also climb, drive, or ride the cog railway to the top of Pikes Peak at 14,110 feet. (I’ve yet to do the drive.)

We decided to spend the day at the Manitou Springs Cliff Dwellings and Museum. Now I should warn you, these are a bit on the hokey side in the sense that the dwellings were actually reconstructed here after having been moved from another location about 100 years ago. But hey, if you don’t have time to visit Mesa Verde on the other side of the state, these are a decent facsimile.

Manitou Cliff Dwellings
Manitou Cliff Dwellings

After our kids had their fill of climbing over the stone buildings, we headed back to the hotel for a quick nap.

As fun as the cliff dwellings were, they were really just filler until it was time for dinner at The Airplane Restaurant next to the hotel.

The Airplane Restaurant
The KC-97 that is now a restaurant

The Airplane Restaurant is a KC-97 tanker that has been converted into a unique dining establishment. Guests can actually eat inside the plane or in the attached building, which is known as “the terminal.”

From the website:

The Airplane Restaurant centerpiece is a fully intact Boeing KC-97 tanker. Built in 1953, this magnificent airplane refueled aircraft throughout the world. Then, in May 2002, it began its second mission~ to be the preeminent aviation restaurant in the United States. Forty-two passengers can actually eat in the plane of the 275-seat restaurant. Rich in aviation history, displaying 100’s of pictures, memorabilia and rare artifacts, Solo’s offers much more than great food, it offers a flight through aviation history.


We arrived shortly after 5 pm on a Saturday expecting that we would be ahead of the evening crowd.

Greeted by the Globe, a blast from the past.
Greeted by the Globe.

The hostess flight attendant greeted us and asked us where we would like to sit, in the plane or in the terminal. Since they had just seated a large group, the wait for plane seating was expected to be about 45 minutes. I guess we weren’t so early after all.

Given that we had sat in the plane before and our kids were hungry, we chose the terminal. In fact, it might be the better choice anyway.

See, if you sit in the plane, you mostly just see an aluminium tube. Many of us see that view a lot. To some extent, the inside of the plane is the inside of the plane. It also can get hot in there depending on the time of day.

If you do sit there, the tables are all booths, with two-seaters on one side, and four-seaters on the other. Or you can think of it as a 1-2 configuration with the aisle down the middle.

It's a 1-2 seating configuration in the main cabin
It’s a 1-2 seating configuration in the main cabin

Sitting in the terminal, on the other hand, offers more space to move around and look at the memorabilia covering the walls, the model planes sitting on the wing of the real plane, and those hanging from the ceiling.  There is representation from both military aviation and commercial aviation, and there are even a few space shuttle pieces thrown in for good measure.

There’s just quite a bit more to look at in the terminal than the plane, but if you are set on sitting in the plane, by all means, that’s what you should do.

There are plenty of seats in the terminal, most with great views of the wing
The wing of the plane protrudes into the main dining area

Touring The Plane

Unlike commercial flights, you don’t have to stay in your assigned cabin, meaning that even if you dine in the terminal you can stroll through the plane as much as you like. So as soon as we placed our order, my son and I wandered off to explore.

First, we headed up the rear stairs of the plane. (Note there is no wheelchair accessible access to the plane.) It feels very much like boarding a commercial flight via the rear steps.

Boarding via the rear stairs
Boarding via the rear stairs

Once you reach the top of the steps, you can look in the tail section where the refueling boom is located.

The business end of the KC-97
The business end of the KC-97

Then we made our way through the cabin toward the galley and the cockpit. The aisle is wide enough to easily pass, and not feel like you’re intruding on the people dining in there.

Just like on a real plane, the cockpit is where the action is. You can try out both the left seat and the right seat, push the pedals, move the levers, and turn the dials.

Trying out the right seat
Trying out the right seat

There’s a seat for the navigator/radioman behind the pilots, but the kids don’t seem to get as excited about it for some reason, so it’s more commonly occupied by a parent keeping an eye on their kids.

After my son had logged a few minutes of “flight time,” my wife texted me from the table to tell us that the food was there.

We helped ourselves to some of the hand sanitizer from the Costco-sized bottle at the back of the cockpit. Trust me, you’ll want some.

You'll want a good handful of this stuff when you're done
You’ll want a good handful of this stuff when you’re done

We then returned to the terminal via the front steps, which are identical to the ones in the rear.

The Food

Let’s be clear — nobody comes here for the food. It’s not to say that it’s bad, and it’s certainly better than what you’d get at 30,000 feet, but the real attraction is the airplane.

That said, you’re here, so you’re going to eat.

It’s mostly standard American fare including steaks, ribs, chicken, seafood, pasta, burgers, and salads, all with an aviation theme. In general, it’s pretty much what you’d find in a pub. The menu is online.

I opted for a burger. I suppose it was telling that they didn’t bother to ask me how I wanted it cooked, but then again, United never asked me that either when they were serving burgers in first class for dinner. And just like then, it arrived a little dry.

My burger. It had cheese.
My burger. It had cheese.

My wife got the Chicken Fried Chicken salad which she liked. I think it had chicken on it.

Salad with fried chicken
Salad with fried chicken

My son ordered the hamburger from the children’s menu. It was almost as big as my burger, which is to say we brought more than half of it back to the hotel.

The plating looks very much like how United used to serve them
Would you like a burger with your fries?

My daughter got the hot dog. Both came with a ton of fries. In hindsight, we could have had them share a single kids meal. At least in theory.

Hot Dog
Hot Dog

After our meal was done, we made another lap through the plane and cockpit. We then went outside and walked around the engines and propellers. That really helps you grasp how big they are.

KC-97 Propellor
KC-97 Propellor


The Airplane Restaurant is a really unique dining experience for all ages. Aviation geeks could spend hours looking at the memorabilia lining the walls, while parents will have to pry young children out of the cockpit. It’s definitely worth a visit if you are in the area, and may well justify a special trip to Colorado Springs if you are an aviation geek. 

I’m sure we’ll be back.

Have you been to The Airplane Restaurant in Colorado Springs? Or a similar concept elsewhere in the world?

  1. Thanks for making comments when appropriate regarding accessibility issues. Appreciated.

  2. If you every get near the Pacific Coast side of Costa Rica (the town of Manuel Antonio), be sure to check out this place

    El Avion:

    Fascinating history to the airplane … and we actually thought the food was quite good. Definitely a step above typical pub/bar food.

  3. Colleen — Yep, after breaking my leg last fall and spending months on crutches and other aids, I’m much more cognizant to accessibility now.

  4. Lucky,

    When are you going to head to Colorado Springs to check out Dr. Dobson’s Focus on the Family Welcome Center?

    You’re welcome

  5. loved how you used “aluminium” cause thats the way it’s supposed to be! 🙂

    but you are American, right?

  6. “It’s a 1-2 seating configuration in the main cabin” – yeah, I chuckled at that one 🙂

  7. Ariel — Yup, I’m American. Just an inadvertent tip of the hat to our British readers. LOL.

  8. jmd001 — Actually read about that one while reading about this one. Very cool! Would be excited to check it out.

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