You can read about airplanes all you like and admire different models parked in airfields or museums, but there’s nothing like seeing daring feats of aviation live and in person during an air show. Here are some of the best air shows in the country that are well worth traveling for.
What makes an air show one of the best in the nation? Size certainly plays a factor. An air show that has dozens of planes flying in formation has much more variety for the viewer and is arguably more impressive than just one or two planes flying around.
However, size is not the only factor. Air shows are an opportunity to show off aerobatics and complex maneuvers showing the skill of the pilots. It’s no coincidence that many of the greatest air shows are associated with the military.
Other air shows are spectacular thanks to their historic importance commemorating a specific event or because of the culture among their enthusiasts. This list uses a few different factors to determine which are the best air shows in the US.
Table of Contents
- 15. Wings Over North Georgia Air Show, Rome, Georgia
- 14. Oceana Air Show, Virginia Beach, Virginia
- 13. Star Spangled Salute Air & Space Show, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
- 12. Chicago Air & Water Show, Chicago, Illinois
- 11. Great Tennessee Air Show, Smyrna, Tennessee
- 10. Wings Over Houston Air Show, Houston, Texas
- 9. Miramar Air Show, San Diego, California
- 8. Battle Creek Field of Flight Air Show, Battle Creek, Michigan
- 7. Joint Base Andrews Air Show, Camp Springs, Maryland
- 6. Pacific Airshow, Huntington Beach, California
- 5. Dayton Air Show, Dayton, Ohio
- 4. Sun ‘n Fun International Fly-In and Expo, Lakeland, Florida
- 3. Mid-Atlantic Air Museum’s World War II Weekend, Reading, Pennsylvania
- 2. Stihl National Championship Air Races, Reno, Nevada
- 1. EAA AirVenture Oshkosh, Wisconsin
15. Wings Over North Georgia Air Show, Rome, Georgia
The “Wings Over North Georgia Air Show” was voted one of the ten best air shows in the country by U.S. News. It’s no wonder, since this lively air show has everything aviation enthusiasts could want, including aerial acrobatics, community with other enthusiasts, and even the opportunity to participate in flight yourself.
The exhibitors at the air show are some of the best in the business. Headliners are usually the USN Blue Angels, the Navy’s flight demonstration squad that is one of the oldest in the world to formally take on the field of aerobatics.
Starting in 2022, the North Georgia Air Show added the Air Show Racing Series featuring a slalom obstacle course for skilled pilots. This is another crowd favorite along with the opportunity to take a living history flight in a B-25 “Panchito.”
14. Oceana Air Show, Virginia Beach, Virginia
For lovers of pyrotechnics and aerobatics, the Oceana Air Show in Virginia Beach is a must-visit event. This show is unique because it has a combination of military and civilian aircraft performing, including the iconic Blue Angels that are a staple of every good air show.
The highlight of the Oceana Air Show for most visitors is the performance by the Firewalkers International, an Air Show Pyrotechnics Team. The team uses explosives and fireworks to incorporate plumes of fire and smoke into their stunning performances—just don’t stand too close.
The Oceana Air Show also features more traditional air show acts such as civilian stunt performers that engage in spectacular turns and demonstrations of individual skill when flying.
13. Star Spangled Salute Air & Space Show, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
The Star-Spangled Salute Air & Space Show is one of the best air shows in the Midwest and also one of the best air shows that you can bring your children to. That’s because in addition to demonstrating the serious business of expert flying, this is one of the few air shows to include a comedic element, showing the true versatility of the art of flying.
For the youngest visitors, a clear highlight of the show is the performance by the “Jelly Belly” Piper Cub, a bright yellow plane painted with Jelly Belly jelly beans whose goofy show ends with landing on the roof of an RV. On the ground, there are hands-on activities for kids to learn more about STEM.
Besides the ever-present Blue Angels, visitors can enjoy demonstrations of different generations of military aircraft, celebrating the history of the Air Force (which makes sense, since this is an event organized by Tinker Air Force base).
12. Chicago Air & Water Show, Chicago, Illinois
The Chicago Air & Water Show is one of the biggest air shows in the country and one of the biggest events in the city of Chicago at all, which is pretty impressive given the size of this metropolis. The air show takes place over Lake Michigan, allowing the same event to showcase the daring of pilots, water skiers, and more.
Another unique aspect of the Chicago Air & Water Show is that it is completely free to attend, the largest such event in the United States to not have paid ticketing. Locals and visitors alike pile on the shorelines of Lake Michigan and on the rooftops of adjacent buildings.
Highlights of the performances include the U.S. Coast Guard Air/Sea Rescue Team, the Chicago Fire Department Air/Sea Rescue, heritage flights from branches of the U.S. military, and civilian daredevils flying all sorts of aircraft.
11. Great Tennessee Air Show, Smyrna, Tennessee
The Great Tennessee Air Show is a must-visit for fans of the USN Blue Angels. While this flight demonstration squadron performs at most top-level United States air shows, the show in Smyrna holds special importance to the team because a pilot crashed here in 2016 while preparing for the show. You can visit the Capt. Jeff Kuss USMC memorial while you are in town for a somber reminder of the dangers associated with aerobatics.
However, the actual air show itself isn’t nearly as somber with performances from the stalwart Blue Angels, of course, as well as military and civilian daredevils. Fans of historical aviation will enjoy retro tricks such as wing walkers and flights by historic biplanes.
You have to time your visit to Smyrna just right because unlike most shows, the Great Tennessee Air Show occurs biennially instead of every year.
10. Wings Over Houston Air Show, Houston, Texas
The Wings Over Houston Air Show in Texas is a must-attend show for aviation history buffs. The highlights of the show include vintage World War II aircraft which you rarely get a chance to see outside of museums outside of more standard air show fare such as Air Force demonstrations and civilian acrobats.
The show is partially organized by the Commemorative Air Force, which wants to showcase the history of aviation, particularly the military history, along with the best of today.
The vintage aircraft usually comes from the Lone Star Flight Museum and in the past included vintage war birds such as the B-17 Flying Fortress.
9. Miramar Air Show, San Diego, California
The Miramar Air Show in sunny San Diego is a must-visit for fans of military aviation because it is the largest military aviation show in the country.
The air show is organized by the Marine Corps Air Station Miramar and highlights the prowess of the Marines as well as other military branches. Performance highlights usually include the Marine Air-Ground Task Force demonstration, demonstrations of the latest in flight technology, and aerobatics. Don’t let your attention to the sky distract you from what’s on the ground because this is the show where the Marines usually bring out their Shockwave Jet Truck which can outrun some planes.
If the air station looks familiar, that’s because this is the site of the movie Top Gun. Film enthusiasts also have to see this air show.
8. Battle Creek Field of Flight Air Show, Battle Creek, Michigan
If you prefer your air shows with a dose of patriotism, then the Battle Creek Field of Flight Air Show is a must-see. This festival is the country’s largest Fourth of July air show.
Besides your standard military and civilian flight demonstrations, the Battle Creek Field of Flight Air Show features aircraft not usually found in most air shows—hot air balloons. Each festival usually has dozens of balloons that even parade for an illuminated night flight.
This is a great air show to go to as a family, even if not everyone is an aviation enthusiast, because it has a lively carnival and flea market for those who prefer to stay on the ground.
7. Joint Base Andrews Air Show, Camp Springs, Maryland
The air show put on by Joint Base Andrews near Washington, D.C., is one of the nation’s most important air shows from a historic commemoration standpoint. That’s because this show, sometimes called the Legends in Flight show, commemorates the attack on Pearl Harbor.
An important act in the show is the Tora Bomb Squad, which reenacts the attack on Pearl Harbor with a pyrotechnics show using period-accurate Japanese aircraft.
An important component of the Joint Base Andrews Air Show actually happens on the ground because the military uses this show as a way to teach young people about STEM.
6. Pacific Airshow, Huntington Beach, California
The Pacific Airshow at Huntington Beach is one of the largest and most important on the West Coast of the United States. The event runs over three days in Huntington Beach and has a second edition on the Gold Coast of Australia, one of the few airshows in the world to span the globe in this way.
Over the three days of the festival, visitors can take in aerobatic demonstrations over the stunning backdrop of the Pacific Ocean.
There is also plenty to do on the ground with a boat race, live music festivals, and more. It’s no wonder this is the most-attended air show in the United States!
5. Dayton Air Show, Dayton, Ohio
Dayton is already a must-visit destination for aviation enthusiasts thanks to the National Museum of the Air Force. For a real aviation-themed trip, time your visit to coincide with the Dayton Air Show.
For aviation enthusiasts, the Dayton Air Show has fly-by demonstrations of historic aircraft as well as demonstrations from new military craft.
Although flying is a serious business, the Air Show also offers some humor with a comedy act from Kent Pietsch.
4. Sun ‘n Fun International Fly-In and Expo, Lakeland, Florida
For enthusiasts that want to see the latest in aviation technology worldwide, there is one must-attend air show: the Sun ‘n Fun International Fly-In in Lakeland.
This air show is best known for its incredible lineup of ground exhibits, showing vintage aircraft as well as the latest in aircraft technology. There are also hands-on demonstrations and repair tutorials.
No air show would be complete without demonstrations and Lakeland has some of the best daredevils, including the Thunderbirds.
3. Mid-Atlantic Air Museum’s World War II Weekend, Reading, Pennsylvania
Many aviation shows feature some historical aircraft. However, the true history buff won’t find a better air show than the World War II Weekend put on by the Mid-Atlantic Air Museum, dedicated just to vintage aircraft.
Every year on the first weekend in June, the Mid-Atlantic Air Museum organizes a show dedicated to war birds from World War II. See vintage models such as the B-29 Boeing Superfortress.
The whole festival is arranged to provide an immersive historical experience, with living history re-enactors, pinup cosplayers, replicas of French villages, and period-authentic radio shows and music.
2. Stihl National Championship Air Races, Reno, Nevada
Every air show comes with its required dose of adrenaline—we’re all aware of the danger that comes with aerobatics. However, no event matches the adrenaline and daring on display at the Stihl National Championship Air Races in Reno.
At the races, seven classes of planes compete in what the organizers call “the fastest motorsport on earth.” Check out the courses to see speed and agility.
Besides races, the event also has aerobatics displays, military flybys, and information booths about flight school because one of the goals of the event is to encourage more people to become pilots. After seeing the daring on display, everyone wants to be a pilot at least a little bit!
1. EAA AirVenture Oshkosh, Wisconsin
The EAA AirVenture Oshkosh is one of the best air shows in the world and one of the largest, with thousands of aircraft participating each year.
The air show is organized by the Experimental Aircraft Association and started off as a gathering place for homebuilding enthusiasts. Although the air show is still strongly DIY in spirit with plenty of home builds, it now attracts professional aircraft and even warbirds.
The EAA AirVenture is one of the best shows to attend to see the true spirit of the aviation community in action.