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.

About Tom Demerly
Tom Demerly is a feature writer, journalist, photographer and editorialist who has written articles that are published around the world on,, Outside magazine, Business Insider, We Are The Mighty, The Dearborn Press & Guide, National Interest, Russia’s government media outlet Sputnik, and many other publications. Demerly studied journalism at Henry Ford College in Dearborn, Michigan. Tom Demerly served in an intelligence gathering unit as a member of the U.S. Army and Michigan National Guard. His military experience includes being Honor Graduate from the U.S. Army Infantry School at Ft. Benning, Georgia (Cycle C-6-1) and as a Scout Observer in a reconnaissance unit, Company “F”, 425th INF (RANGER/AIRBORNE), Long Range Surveillance Unit (LRSU). Demerly is an experienced parachutist, holds advanced SCUBA certifications, has climbed the highest mountains on three continents and visited all seven continents and has flown several types of light aircraft.


  1. I have got to see this airshow sometime! Bummed I couldn’t make it this year. Thanks for posting.

  2. Gotta tell you, I don’t like seeing military jets with these commercial advertisements painted on them. I’m all for commemorating victims but this Vegas Strong thing is a commercial venture to prop up sagging tourism after the Vegas attack. It’s essentially saying, “Stick it to the terrorists by coming out here and blowing your money!”

    • Hi FoilHatWearer, Thank you for your insight. I’m the fellow who wrote this article. We stayed out at Nellis AFB while in Nevada for the show but went into Las Vegas on a weekend for a show. Let me assure you, tourism in Las Vegas is not “sagging”, not at all. The night we were there was when the Rock n’ Roll half marathon event was taking place, and it was huge. Likely record attendance. The casinos were packed, the show we were in was sold out, and the restaurants were full. We remarked at how the mass shooting had not hurt business at all. In fact, for some reason, it may have done the opposite.

  3. It’s good that the American people and the entire world should be witness to American superiority, supremacy, in the air. And for those out there, you who hate the U.S. out of raging jealousy (that’s what it all boils down to – the fact that you are all angry at your country being outclassed, militarily inferior, to America’s armed forces) there’s more surprises coming in the near future.Quickly! The U.S. is ramping up production of the next generation of powerful stealth bomber, the Northrop Grumman B-21 bomber:

    A top secret desert assembly plant starts ramping up to build Northrop’s B-21 bomber

    “Northrop is building the Air Force’s new B-21 bomber, a stealthy bat-winged jet that is being designed to slip behind any adversary’s air defense system and deliver devastating airstrikes for decades to come.”

    So in 2030 we’ll see Russia putzing around flying their old, outdated, dilapidated Tu-95, China the same with their H-6, everyone else with … nothing. But it’s OK for Pakistanis to brag and be proud of their JF-17 but we Americans can’t be the same with our far superior kit? Bullshit! B-21 is coming the world’s way, and friends should celebrate, but our enemies? Be afraid. Yes indeed, be very, very afraid. And watch your international manners! Do NOT threaten world freedom. You might pay a very heavy kinetic force-oriented price. That’s the kind of diplomacy ol’ Leroy approves of. How ’bout you?

  4. First: My taxes paid for those paint jobs. Second: The AF can’t afford a whole host of shit including the Warthog. 2,000 + pilot shortage not to mention mechanics. Maybe they should concentrate on the mission and stay out of domestic issues. Advice; “Stay In Your Lane”.

    • Hi Hector F, thank you for your comments Sir. The Air Force is sticking to its mission Sir. Nellis AFB is home to a major training facility for elite Pararescue personnel tasked with rescue and life support for casualties. They performed that mission in response to the tragic shooting in Las Vegas, helping with triage and emergency services in the aftermath of the shooting. Also, local military personnel at the shooting have been hailed for their selfless role in protecting and evacuating victims. Also, recall that a big part of the Air Force mission is to maintain the quality of the force. That means inspiring and bringing the very best young people into the Air Force in every job. Events like Aviation Nation inspire young people to pursue excellence in a career in the U.S. Air Force. This event also acknowledges the contributions of veterans and airmen and officers. This year the event fell on Veteran’s Day in the U.S. Protecting the nation is not just a constant flow of training and working. It is also about maintaining quality and acknowledging the diligent work of those who are serving, have served and inspiring new people to serve. That mission is as critical to maintaining quality and proficiency as dropping bombs out on a practice range.

  5. Does nobody noticed that the jets showing those messages to support a city victim of a mass shooting are actually … weapons ? Nobody ?

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