Maybe it’s because of the television show “Yellowstone,” but for whatever reason promoters of the air show in Billings that will feature the Blue Angels are discovering that Montana is really “hot.”

Everyone wants to come, says co-chair of the Yellowstone International Airshow board, Mathew McDonnell. Every performer invited to participate in the air show — and that includes some very top-notch entertainment — has said “yes.” So besides the Blue Angels, the many other acts that will be performing are the very best of the best.

Even the Blue Angels report that of the personal guests they are inviting, everyone is accepting – they all want to visit Montana.

The organizers are expecting 12,500 people per day for the two-day event, which will unfold on August 12 and 13 at the Billings Logan International Airport. Sponsors and volunteers will be putting on one of the biggest shows Billings has ever seen.

Even though Billings is considered a small town, it’s not going to be a small- town airshow, said McDonnell. The Blue Angels are committed to bringing the show that’s produced for big towns – those with populations of 500,000 or more.

There will be other military performers, about which specific information is classified, but they will include some of the fifth generation fighter jets, “that you don’t usually get,” said McDonnell. He adds that the shows line-up has even impressed “Thumper” – Kendall Switzer — a retired Brigadier General who is a past Blue Angel and has been part of many air shows. Switzer now lives in Bozeman and is helping in planning this airshow.

Tickets for the show are already on sale and the VIP tickets for Saturday are already sold out. So far they have sold about a fifth of the general admission tickets they expect to sell.

Tickets are $45 for general admission and $10 for children 10 and under. Buy four or more tickets and get free parking. VIP tickets for Sunday are still available at $125, which include private tent, private viewing area, parking, VIP pass, private food and beverage stations and private porta potty.

They have 50 chalet tents that are being sold as suites that accommodate 15 people per suite. At $15,000 each, about half are already sold, said McDonnell.  More information is available on the web site,

Also on the website are sites to submit requests to be a vendor or to operate a food truck, as well as to volunteer. A number of food trucks are already committed as are a number of vendors who will sell souvenirs or other air show related items. Others with tables and displays are military recruiters and non-profit organizations.

McDonnell offers one piece of advice to those attending the air show – “Come Early!”

McDonnell explained that there are many things to do and see before the planes fly.

There will be plenty of water and opportunity for shade, he advised, as well as numerous food trucks and beer booths. Patrons may bring in chairs and blankets, but umbrellas and coolers will not be allowed.

Parking in the peripheral or secondary areas will also not be allowed because of protocols for safety required by the Blue Angels.

Thursday and Friday will be hectic days of preparation and flying practice, which of course are not open to the public, but a special event will be held on Friday for disabled veterans, who are urged to register on the website so they can be notified and invited.

The airshow will also include a salute to 75 years of women in the military.

Volunteers have emerged from every corner of Billings, and even from other parts of the state. Each of the 25 or so board members have taken on a duty from managing the food and beverage vendors to lining up the motels and hotels, to planning the airport layout and parking for the event. The show is paying only two individuals— a coordinator from Salt Lake City and an “air boss” – everyone else are volunteers. McDonnell said that the Salt Lake City coordinator proclaimed that “this is the best board I have ever seen.”

Ticket sales and sponsors help to fund the $1 million or so that it takes to put on an air show.  The project is an expensive one, as they have to rent tents, porta potties, sound systems, fences, etc. They have to pay for the entertainment acts and for fuel, which is quite expensive, said McDonnell, who adds that they have gone all- out for lots of “flames and explosions”, which while adding to the cost, will make the show more exciting.

 Co-chairs of the airshow board, Matthew McDonnell and Jake Penwell, have been working on putting the airshow together for more than two years. It all started over breakfast at PAYS café, where the two old friends reminisced about their youth growing up in Billings and what they loved and appreciated about their hometown.  As Jake and Matt reminisced they talked about wanting to be able to “give back” to the community they loved, then suddenly they declared “why not!?” Why not try to bring the airshow back.

Penwell shared how impactful the former airshows 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 airshow he enlisted in the Navy. Today, Penwell’s son has become the third generation of Penwells to serve in the Navy.

To inspire, motivate and educate young people about the military and their country is the purpose of the Blue Angels airshows.

The Blue Angels are a flight demonstration 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.


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