“Come early!”

Not to miss a single moment of what is going to be the biggest and most exciting air show in Montana history, spectators should arrive at least an hour early, advises Mathew McDonnel, co-chair of the team of organizers who are making the Yellowstone International Airshow happen on August 12 – 13 in Billings.

With some 15,000 spectators expected for each day of the event, the process of getting everyone parked and through security will take a while, so not to miss a single minute of the show spectators are being urged to give themselves plenty of time. Getting there early will be well worth the effort because of the many static displays that will be available for spectators to tour. Gates will open at 9 a.m. 

And, “you don’t want to miss the National Anthem,” at 11 am, said McDonnell, explaining that it will be a “Super Bowl National Anthem.”

Few people could be more excited about the Airshow than McDonnell, but what he is most enthusiastic about is the magnificent effort of people in Billings who are making it happen, including the sponsors, volunteers and organizing committee. “They said it couldn’t be done,” enthused McDonnell, “and we did it.”

McDonnell and his fellow co-chair, Jake Penwell, have been working to put 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.  One of those things was the airshow in 2001. As they reminisced they talked about wanting to be able to “give back” to the community, then suddenly they declared “why not!?” Why not try to bring the airshow back?

Intermountain Health (St. Vincent Healthcare) is the over-all sponsor, but there are numerous others who have stepped forward to make it happen, including Famous Daves, Panera Bread, Williams Plumbing, Red Door, Applebees, UBS, Rocky Mountain College, The Granary, Edwards Jet Center, Taylor Electric, Inc., Buffalo Block at the Rex, Land Design, Mission Development Center, Special Olympics, Fuller Family Medicine, Ritchie Manning Kautz Attorneys, Adaptive Performance Center, GPS Electric Service, Vision Net, Land Design, and Dahlquist Flooring Contractors.

According to McDonnell, there have been some unexpected changes and uncertainties over the past few weeks regarding what air planes and pilots will be available. There has been a heightened call to active duty for much of the military, which has forced some changes; but, despite that, said McDonnell, some of the issues have been resolved and some are turning out for the best for the show.

Through special consideration by the Pentagon some air craft, like the B-1B Lancer, a super sonic bomber, will still be coming to the Billings Airshow.

There will be two F-16s to be flown by the Viper Team. They are among rare jets that fly straight up, called the “motorcycle of the air.” The F-35 Fifth generation fighter, “which is not easy to get”, will be here, and a B-1 will “kick off” off the show.

And of course the Blue Angles will perform both days of the event at 3 pm.

In addition to the military, there will be eight other performances including some pyrotechnics – and some surprise performances.

“It’s going to be a top level show,” said McDonnell.

On Tuesday, prior to the event, a large Montana ranch will be hosting the Blue Angels team for a “branding style day.”  

The skies over Billings will get very interesting after that as flying machines arrive and practice begins.

On Thursday and Friday, Aug. 10 and 11, the air show will be in full practice, which for the most part is closed to the public although special guests – veterans and law enforcement and other first responders – who will be very busy during the show –  will be invited to the practice sessions.

Just as interesting and worth seeing is the gigantic – 3 section “tent” – that will accommodate the VIP chalets and seating. Used in the Waste Management Phoenix Open, the shelter is built like Legos, explained McDonnell, and because of the size of the airshow they acquired the use of the shelter. “It’s amazing,” said McDonnell. The crew that will set it up arrived in Billings on July 25 – and they will need every day before the airshow to set it up.

In addition to the VIP / Chalet seats, the tent will accommodate military and veteran guests who are being invited to attend the air show practice on Friday, called Military Day.

And, “airport security is everything,” said McDonnell.  The Blue Angeles have some very strict protocols which must be followed – one of which is there will be no air flights at the airport during the airshow from 11 am to 4 pm.

Highway 3 will be closed. Reader boards will be placed in advance to notify travelers about the highway closure. Every one entering the show will be searched and there will be restrictions about what can be brought into the grounds.

Also there will be no secondary viewing areas allowed – another naval requirement. People can watch from North Park but not from the Rims.

Most of the Billings’ area emergency services – especially law enforcement and emergency medical services – will be on call.

The gates open at 9 am on Saturday and Sunday, August 12 and 13. The air show starts at 11 am and the Blue Angels performance begins at 3 pm. Gates close at 4:30 pm

VIP tickets are sold out but general admission tickets are available. Details about what spectators will be allowed to take into the event will be announced later.


You must be logged in to post a comment.