The Blue Angels will perform in Billings on August 12 and 13, 2023.

They are coming to Billings as the result of a year’s long effort by a group of Billings’s volunteers, who remembered the air shows of over twenty years ago and wanted to recreate the experience for a new generation and to showcase Billings.

The Blue Angels recently announced the schedule for what will be their 77th air show season. . The Blue Angels are scheduled to perform 62 demonstrations at 33 locations in 2023.

Demonstration sites are selected two years prior to the show season.

The idea of bringing the Blue Angels back to Billings, all started over breakfast at PAYS café, where two old friends reminisced about their youth growing up in Billings and what they loved and appreciated about their hometown.  As Jake Penwell and Matt McDonnell talked about it and as they went on to talk about their hope to be able to “give back” to the community they loved, they suddenly declared “why not!?” Why not try to bring the air show back.

Penwell shared how impactful the former air shows in Billings had been for him. “That was the straw that broke the camel’s back,” he said, explaining that he had long been entertaining ideas of joining the military, but after seeing the air show he enlisted in the Navy. Today, Penwell’s son has become the third generation of Penwells to serve in the Navy.

As they committed themselves to bringing an air show back to Billings, “We decided that our best course of action was just to move forward until we hit a hurdle we couldn’t overcome. We never ran into that hurdle,” said Penwell.

They identified some other friends and community leaders and invited them all to lunch one day. Penwell and McDonnell put forth the challenge and asked their guests if they wanted to sign on. “Not one said no,” exclaimed Penwell, “They became our board of directors.”

“Now a year later, we have attracted the Blue Angels”

Penwell lauds their “board of directors” for their yeomen’s efforts. “You can’t do it on your own,” he said.

The Blue Angels is a flight demon-ration squadron of the United States Navy who fly Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornets. Over the years they have performed for more than 500 million people. The squadron’s logistics support aircraft is the C-130J Super Hercules.

Founded in 1946 by the Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Chester Nimitz, the Blue Angel’s performances assist in recruiting and retention goals for the military services, enhance esprit de corps among uniformed men and women, and inspire and educate young people. The team is stationed at Forrest Sherman Field, Naval Air Station Pensacola, Florida, during the air show season. The squadron spends January through March training at Naval Air Facility El Centro, California.

Getting the Blue Angel’s to come is just the beginning … there is much that must be done over the coming year and a lot more volunteers will be needed, as well as financial support— whether it is to become a sponsor or to buy a ticket.

Penwell said he is amazed at the generosity of everyone in sharing their time and expertise. Especially helpful has been those who produced past air shows. Also offering great insight and direction has been event producers at Metra Park and those involved with the Magic City Blues Fest. Also helping out has been Kendall Switzer of Bozeman who is a former member of the Blue Angel’s team. “He has been to countless air shows and he has been an incredible asset to us.”

As the board worked on the project, which started out as something of a secret mission, word leaked out, said Penwell and they were soon being asked by many people how they could help – especially from those in “aviation circles”. Everyone wants to make it “the best air show we have ever seen,” said Penwell.

Hosting the Blue Angels will undoubtedly draw attendance from throughout the region. The timing will be such as to afford an opportunity to show off the newly remodeled Billings’ airport which will have just been completed.  The air show is also an amazing opportunity to show off Billings, and to bring people to come and enjoy the city.

So amazingly has “the board” worked together, said Penwell, he hopes they may be able to formalize the group to work on other projects in the future that will give-back to Billings and showcase the city.

Those who have been part of the group striving to bring the Blue Angeles to Billings are: Kendall (Thumper) Switzer, Matt McDonnell, Tim Goodridge, Jake Penwell, Michael Sanderson, John Ostlund, Don Jones, Vu Pham, Robb Bergeson, Jay Jamieson, Ty Elkin, Reid Pyburn, Chad Ametoy, Chris Kukulski, Gary Blain, Kevin Ploehn, Jodee Etchart, Sara Young, Eric Finstad, and Alex Tyson.


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