The elephant walk, a military aviation readiness exercise/show of force, is not new.
The US Air Force has been performing elephant walks for over two generations.
The term comes from World War II, when massive bomber missions were deployed, and the bombers appeared like elephants walking nose-to-tail while taxiing to the runway and taking off in quick succession.
But this year, the Air Force staged the largest elephant walk ever, which was most certainly a signal to Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping, a demonstration that the US still had the most powerful military on Earth.
What is an elephant walk
An elephant walk is simple really, occurring when a large group of aircraft taxi en masse, and then take off in quick succession. The elephant walk is used as a training exercise, forcing airmen to prepare and launch dozens of planes at once.
“The key to air power is exceptional airmen, and the key to exceptional airmen is exceptional training,” said Brigadier General Lyle K. Drew, who commands the 82nd Training Wing. “[The] elephant walk was our message to the world that the U.S. and its international partners remain committed to delivering the best trained airmen in the world.”
The biggest elephant walk ever
The US Air Force staged the biggest elephant walk in history last April, at Sheppard Air Force Base in Texas, when 4,000 airmen walked alongside 80 aircraft.
The timing of the display was not a coincidence. The Russo-Ukraine War raged, with tensions between the US and Russia higher than at any point since the conclusion of the Cold War. Similarly, tensions between the US and China were escalating amidst Chinese territorial assertions in the Indo-Pacific.
The elephant walk occurred at Sheppard Air Force Base, which is where much of the Air Force’s pilot training occurs.
As Colonel Brad Orgeron of the 80th Flying Training Wing said: “No other base could bring this many training aircraft and student airmen to bear like this. The fundamental technical and pilot training missions that happen here every day affect literally every base and every combat sortie in the Air Force – not to mention the impact on our global partners.”
Colonel Orgeron continued, “We want our allies to know that we are committed to and value our shared training experience with them, and we want our potential adversaries to know that we are bound together with our friends and partners from the very beginning of our military careers as we train side by side to defend our way of life.”
General Drew had more to say, too. “A picture is worth a thousand words, and this elephant walk really illustrates the scope and magnitude of what we do here.
Sheppard is like the epicenter of a huge sonic boom that reverberates around the planet as we graduate nearly 65,000 airmen annually and send them off to deliver combat power all over the world.”
Harrison Kass is the Senior Editor and opinion writer at 19FortyFive. An attorney, pilot, guitarist, and minor pro hockey player, Harrison joined the US Air Force as a Pilot Trainee but was medically discharged. Harrison holds a BA from Lake Forest College, a JD from the University of Oregon, and an MA from New York University. Harrison listens to Dokken.
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