The power of our military and the inspiration that comes from hearing powerful aircraft roaring overhead is deeply rooted in the Blue Angels' outstanding productions.

Three men who are helping bring the Blue Angels to the August 2023 event in Billings harness both in their thoughtful planning. It's the first time the Blue Angels have visited the area since 2000.

Jake Penwell and Matt McDonnell, two longtime friends from Billings, co-chair the planning committee. Jake was moved by seeing the Blue Angels as a kid in 1988, and was inspired to join the Navy. Since then, he's wanted to bring an airshow to Billings that would do the same for the younger generation today.

"They're very close to my heart," Penwell said. "We can't wait for all this to be put together. We have an incredible team around us."

A special expert on the team

The duo brought on Kendall "Thumper" Switzer of Bozeman, a former Blue Angels pilot who has been friends with McDonnell for years.

"I said, 'This guy's perfect'," McDonnell said. "We needed an expert... I think this is going to be a great thing for our community."

Switzer was a Blue Angel in the 1990s for three years in his late 20s. The application process is rigorous and requires much experience, but he said above all the qualifying trait is having "no ego".

Former Blue Angel pilot Kendall "Thumper" Switzer speaks during the formal announcement of Billings' airshow
Credit: Rachel Helgeson, Townsquare Media
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Switzer said airshows are something that all ages are affected by, and he's very excited and proud to be part of the team.

"Something just hits you to your core, your being," he added. "This will be an opportunity for young, old, to see airplanes fly. What a spectacular event. It takes a lot of work for this to happen."

A gift to the community

The planning team is honing in on an important theme for the event as a whole.

"Something that's been important to us is honoring the past," Penwell said. "We're so blessed to have had those airshows in the past. If it weren't for them, we would have never had the idea to put this on. To be honest, I don't think I would've entered into the Navy."

Aviation education is a big deal, as the aviation world is struggling to be filled with future generations, Penwell explained. The team wants to honor the past, current, and future military personnel as well.

Summer 2023 will be a big party in Billings: Airport terminal expansion will be done, a fair will be going on, and the airshow. Mountain region people will be drawn to Billings for the notable events.

"There was no question that we wanted to do something big for Billings," Penwell added, having been born and raised in the Magic City. "I could not be more proud to bring this to Billings."

When will tickets go on sale?

Put the airshow on your calendar, but you'll have to wait for tickets. Penwell said they are still working on ticketing.

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