Forty-nine fighter jets and drones assigned to the 49th Wing lined the runway for an incredible display of airpower at Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico.
The “elephant walk” occurred on April 21st, with F-16 Viper fighter jets and MQ-9 Reaper remotely piloted aircraft.
“When people mention Holloman Air Force Base I want them to picture the aircraft and mission that’s displayed in today’s elephant walk,” said U.S. Air Force Col. Justin Spears, 49th Wing commander. “We have the largest F-16 Viper and MQ-9 Reaper training pipeline and this elephant walk showcases the amount of airpower and manpower we can generate.”
The term “elephant walk,” dates back to World War II when large bomber aircraft formations were commonplace. During this time, observers commented that the nose-to-tail formations that the bombers formed resembled that of elephant nose-to-tail formations when going to a watering hole.
Since the term was coined back in World War II, elephant walks are much more common and are used as a display of power for not just the Air Force, but also the Air Force bases that are conducting the event.
These displays aren’t just to show off airpower, they can also be used as a means of celebration and a morale booster.
“I think elephant walks are important as it shows our NATO partners and other allies around the world that we care about producing pilots and operators,” said U.S. Air Force Maj. Sean Robere, 311th Fighter Squadron, assistant director of operations. “It also shows other parts of the world that we are continuing to produce capable Airmen and aircraft.”
The F-16s used for the elephant walk are assigned to the 8th, 311th, and 314th Fighter Squadrons, and the MQ-9s are assigned to the 29th, 9th and 6th Attack Squadron at Holloman AFB. This also marks the first use of MQ-9s in an airpower display like this.
The elephant walk was only made possible by the incredible effort put in by the Airmen across the wing, to include a huge lift from the 49th Maintenance Group, displaying their own skill and capabilities by launching 49 aircraft in such a short window.
“Being able to work with the Airmen from the MQ-9 side of the house is always fun because we essentially have the same mission of building combat aircrew but with different aircraft,” said U.S. Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Brian Maple, 311th Aircraft Maintenance Unit assistant superintendent. “The communication between the MQ-9 and F-16 units really helps to build and strengthen our effectiveness at completing the mission.”
The 49th Wing is the largest F-16 and MQ-9 formal training unit in the Air Force, producing hundreds of combat-ready fighter pilots, remotely piloted aircraft pilots and sensor operators every year. These Airmen go on to support American and Allied operations across the globe.