Report: 2017 Aviation Nation Air and Space Expo Celebrates USAF 70th Anniversary at Nellis AFB

Expo Showcases USAF Heritage, Capabilities and Breaking Barriers in Military Aviation.

It is the premiere U.S. Air Force air show: the Aviation Nation Air and Space Expo at Nellis AFB outside Las Vegas, Nevada. This year’s Aviation Nation Air & Space Expo celebrates the 70th Anniversary of the U.S. Air Force with displays and demonstrations rarely seen at any other air show. The theme of the show is “Breaking Barriers” and showcases advances that have crossed gender and race in the U.S. Air Force.

Nellis Air Force Base is adjacent to the sprawling Nellis Range farther north. The range covers a total of 4,500 square miles. It is home of the Nevada Test and Training Range, Nevada National Security Site, Tonopah Test Range, Groom Range, Tikaboo Valley and the fabled “Area 51”. To the southwest is “Star Wars Canyon”, one of the premiere low-flying training areas in the world. It is one of the few places where lucky aviation photographers can photograph real world, low-level flight training- if they’re lucky.

Part of what differentiates Aviation Nation from other air expos and air shows around the world are the unique Air Force units that live at Nellis, and those units’ capability to demonstrate the air force mission better than anyone. While Aviation Nation only covers two days of the year, the capabilities and missions demonstrated during the expo are lived every day by the officers and airmen of Nellis.

One of the most unique and dynamic demonstrations at Aviation Nation is the USAF Warfighter Demo, a combined air and ground demo that showcases the unique Aggressor units and their capability to simulate opposing forces and tactics. The demo also highlights Air Force air superiority capabilities, close air support and Combat Search and Rescue missions and capabilities.

For the first time at an airshow the Lockheed F-35A Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter demonstrated its role in both close air support and also air superiority in a single mission. The F-35A flew in the Warfighter Demo alongside the A-10C Thunderbolt II. The demo reinforced the role of F-35A as a complementary asset to the A-10C, and an aircraft that can use its advanced capability to fill the role of the A-10C in addition to performing the air dominance mission.

The demo began with a simulated attack on Nellis Air Force Base performed by F-16s of the 64th Aggressor Squadron. F-15 Eagles on ready alert responded by taking off to contest the aggressors. A pair of F-35A Lighting IIs arrived and the Aggressors were quickly routed by the F-35s and F-15s.

A pair of F-15 Eagles leap off the runway at Nellis AFB during the Air Combat Demo. (All photos: Tom Demerly/TheAviationist)

Following the air combat phase of the demonstration a simulated rescue of a downed airman featured HH-60G rescue helicopters and A-10C Thunderbolt II aircraft providing close air support. The new component of the close air support demonstration was seeing the F-35As transition from their air superiority role in the first demo to the air support operation in the second phase of the demo, providing simulated close air support along with the A-10Cs during the rescue demo. The message in the demo was clear, the F-35A can perform the close air support mission. While this was only a demonstration, it did provide at least the visual insight that the F-35A can do close air support (CAS). The demo showed the low altitude, close support capability of the F-35A alongside the A-10C for the first time at Aviation Nation.

A pair of F-35As performed close air support (CAS) alongside A-10s in the Air Combat Demo.

Highlights of the veteran, military and media day at Aviation Nation on Friday, November 10, 2017 included a surprise visit by USAF Air Combat Command Commander, General James M. “Mike” Holmes. General Holmes inspected a specially painted F-15 Eagle honoring the city of Las Vegas in the wake of the tragic mass shooting on October 1, 2017.

General James M. “Mike” Holmes, Commander, Air Combat Command (right) inspects the special livery F-15 Eagle.
General James M. “Mike” Holmes with members of the team responsible for the special F-15 and surprise F-16.

There was the surprise unveiling of an F-16 Fighting Falcon (shown in the top image) also painted in a new, commemorative livery honoring Las Vegas and the memory of victims lost and survivors recovering from the October 1st mass shooting.

The Aviation Nation Air and Space Expo takes place this weekend, Saturday, November 11 and Sunday, November 12, 2017 at Nellis AFB outside Las Vegas, Nevada. Admission is free to the public.

Warbird Digest