Stratofreighter at Colorado Springs' Restaurant


Photos © Ben Donahue

Bill Larkins posted the following email on Yahoo's Stratocruiser newsgroup:
"Ben Donahue, an old friend and B-24 pilot, just sent me some photos that he took of a restaurant about 4 miles north of the Colorado Springs, Colorado, Airport. It has a C-97 outside with one wing and two engines inside. This may be part of the Radisson Inn Colorado Springs North, or it may just be that the sign is from the Inn in the background. I would be interested in any comments as it is all new to me. I will also post an interior photo. He thinks it is an ex-Texas ANG aircraft." The investigation continued and Bill reported in March 2003:
Ben found the menu from the restaurant. That gives us the name and address:
"Solo's Restaurant, 1665 North Newport Road, Colorado Springs, CO.
It is not connected with the Raddison Hotel, just happens to be near it. The Menu says it is a KC-97L from the Texas ANG."


These photos were probably taken in September or Octobre 2002. The number on the nose is 283 and it still has U.S.Air Force titles on the forward fuselage.


Amazingly enough the wing protrudes the wall and continues well into the restaurant ! Both the wing and two engines of the C-97 are inside and one of the tables near a window looks out on the landing gear !

The 'last three' on the nose of the Stratofreighter (military variant of the Boeing 377 Stratocruiser) would suggest it is 53-0283. It had been preserved at Carswell AFB, TX for some time (I know of a reference in 1996). Carswell AFB became Naval Air Station Ft. Worth (a Joint Reserve Base) and maybe the move had to do with this.
Joe Baugher has the following to say:
53-283 converted to KC-97G then KC-97L. Put on display at NAS JRB Forth Worth, TX. Bought by a private party in Dec 2001 and trucked to Colorado Springs, Co and used for a restaurant. (Mar.2003).

Having established it is 53-283 (c/n 17065), the following information tells us how and when it got there !

The following link Story and photos by Don Mickey offer the following text:

Take a retired Boeing KC-97, a restaurateur who also happens to be a pilot, and an empty restaurant near an airport and what do you have? Solo's Restaurant.
Just off the GA ramp at Colorado Springs Airport, Solo's Restaurant is hard to miss. A KC-97 is mated with the restaurant, one wing actually piercing the building. From the exterior, the plane looks as though it could be sitting on the ramp awaiting a mission (If the left wing could somehow be untangled from its encasement). The plane's interior, which now serves as a dining area, has been refitted with booths, new aluminum facing, and track lighting.
For much of his career, Steve Kanatzar dreamt of combining his years of experience running restaurants with his love of aviation. His dream began to turn into a reality in the fall of 2001, when he located a complete KC-97 in Fort Worth, Texas. "I just happen to be a pilot and a restaurant guy, so it's a perfect match for me," says Steve.
The large aerial refueling tanker, which had been sitting neglected for over thirty years, was disassembled and trucked from Fort Worth to Colorado Springs in eight pieces. It was then reassembled in and around an existing restaurant building. The refurbishing of both the aircraft and the building began in the December of 2001, and this one-of-a-kind restaurant opened in May, 2002.
Even without its aluminum appendage, Solo's restaurant would be a great destination for any aviation buff. Hundreds of photos of aircraft, some familiar, some altogether unfamiliar, adorn the walls. Dozens of models, including an 8-foot flying model of a B-17, hang from the ceiling. And, of course, the nearby COS tower frequency is dutifully piped over the P.A. system. The main dining area of the restaurant is strategically designed to function around and under the large wing (engines, propellers, and all) of the KC-97.
The menu at Solo's covers a wide selection of standard airport eatery items, such as burgers and sandwiches, as well as an array of more unique choices.
For those who won't be flying home the same day (eight hours from bottle to throttle) there is a full bar. The lounge is decorated with much of the same memorabilia as the main restaurant, with the addition of a fully suited jet jock awaiting the company of a fellow aviator.
GETTING TO SOLO'S
Solo's is located just west of Colorado Springs Municipal Airport, a short, five minute walk from the GA ramp, offering a chance to stretch your legs as you make your way to the restaurant. Turn left on Aviation Way as you exit the GA area, and then turn right on East Fountain Boulevard. Solo's is hard to miss; the restaurant is just on the other side of the redwood-sided Radisson Hotel. Or, if the flight in was all the exercise you can handle, both Colorado Aviation and Colorado Jet Center have courtesy transportation available.

The website has also a link to Short history and specifications of KC-97 and offers the following text:
The Boeing KC-97 is the refueling tanker version of the C-97 Stratofreighter, a 74-ton multi-purpose airplane combining both transport and aerial refueling tanker capabilities. The Strategic Air Command, the Military Air Transport Service, and the Air National Guard flew this aircraft during the 1950s through the 1970s.
In 1942, Boeing began development of a freight-carrying airplane able to match the B-29 in speed, range, and ruggedness. They utilized a number of the B-29's components, including wings, empennage, engines, and landing gear. The diameter of the B-29 fuselage, however, was not large enough for the proposed missions. Boeing engineers met the challenge with what became known as the double-bubble cross-section. The lower section retained the B-29 fuselage (with cargo compartments instead of bomb bays) while the 11-foot wide upper section boasted huge rear "clam shell" loading doors. The resulting 6,140 cubic feet of usable cargo space was more than double the volume of any other transport at the time.
The US Army Air Force awarded Boeing a contract in 1943, and the Boeing designated XC-97 made its maiden flight in November 1944. By 1949, the first of 44 C-97A production models had taken to the air. With the outbreak of war in Korea in 1950, large orders for B-47 and B-52 jet bombers created a need for a large number of inflight refueling tankers. Boeing fitted the C-97 airframe with a flying boom, which, along with the controls and operator station, were assembled as a single pod and attached beneath the Stratofreighter's fuselage in the space normally occupied by the loading doors.
Although the KC-97 was successful as a refueler, its coupling with faster jet aircraft proved problematic. The refueling connection was made at high altitude and then the bomber and tanker "tobogganed" together in a descent, enabling the tanker to maintain enough speed. Eventually the KC-97L was fitted with two supplemental General Electric J47-GE-23 turbojet engines, enabling it to maintain speed during refueling operations.
Beginning in 1957, the KC-97 was replaced by the all jet-powered KC-135A. The last Air Force KC-97 was retired in 1973. A large number, however, remained in use by the Air National Guard until the late 70s. Of the 888 C-97s and KC-97s delivered between 1949 and 1956, only two remain flying today; one C-97 operated as a privately owned warbird, and one KC-97 operated as a firebomber.
Specifications (KC-97G):
Engines: Four 3,500-hp Pratt & Whitney
R-4360-59B 28-cylinder radial piston
Weight: Empty 82,500 lbs.,
Max Takeoff 175,000 lbs.
Wing Span: 141 ft., 3 in.
Length: 110 ft. 4 in.
Height: 38 ft. 3 in.
Performance:
Maximum Speed: 375 mph
Cruise Speed: 300 mph
Ceiling: 30,200 ft.
Range: 4,300 miles

Thanks to Bill Larkins for his continued research in this matter.

Rick Pachosa wrote me in May 2006
"The KC-97L  that is part of the restaurant in Colorado Springs began its career as a KC-97G attached to the 70th SRW at Little Rock Air Force Base from 1955 until 1963 , when it was replaced by the Jet Engine KC-135 .
Our tail numbers ranged from 53-261 to 53-283 with 53-264 and 53-265 missing. We would pull Alert Duty in Goose Bay, Labrador. The KC-97 had a lot of wing area to sweep snow off of during the 11 months of winter ...
Photo courtesy R.Pachosa

Design and development info (plus operational history & variants on:
www.skytamer.com/Boeing_C-97L(KC).html

Jamie Townsend wrote me in June 2007:
"Was just looking on google maps, thought perhaps you might want to add this to the story on the website":

 

Mark wrote me in Oct.2010:
"I had an opportunity to eat lunch at Solo's shortly after it opened.
One day I was eating lunch in the aircraft during a hail storm, in 2002. It was very noisy; I can recall watching the hail stones bouncing off the wing.
The owner told me that '283' was the last KC-97 to fly and pass gas. I've not been able to verify that - maybe somebody with access into the Texas ANG records could do so?"
Mark N. Vondrasek

 

 

Found another 2 photos online:
-during its active career on http://1000aircraftphotos.com by Mark Robinson
-on 08Jan2008 on Airliners.net

 

Joe Wilson updated me in Feb.2010: "The restaurant underwent a name change in 2009 and is now simply called 'The Airplane Restaurant' (since that's what many of us locals called it anyway). I live near it in Colorado Springs and hold military reunions every 2 years and love to bring folks in their to eat during their stay."

 

Airplane Restaurant in Colorado
In Feb.2017 I noticed someone had visited the Airplane Restaurant in Colorado, so it is still open for business.
Facebook link: www.facebook.com/The-Airplane-Restaurant-113968435300850/
The adress is: 1665 N Newport Rd in Colorado Springs,CO

On Google Earth (map date 2015) 38°48'24.10"N - 104°43'34.80"W
Airplane restaurant, Colorado

A few updates on Airliners.net:
www.airliners.net/photo/3872573/L (2016)
'This aircraft sits on or near the Colorado Springs Airport (COS).
It is called the Airplane Restaurant, part of the aircraft sits outside while the other part is inside the restaurant.'
www.airliners.net/photo/1561836/L - 'Solos airplane restaurant at the Radisson Hotel'. (24Jul2009)


 

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