By Airman 1st Class Ericka A. Woolever, 31st Fighter Wing Public Affairs
/ Published June 05, 2020
A U.S. Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcon from the 555th Fighter Squadron takes flight during an Elephant Walk and COVID-19 flyover at Aviano Air Base, Italy, June 1, 2020.
U.S. Air Force aircraft and vehicles assigned to the 31st Fighter Wing line the runway during an elephant walk at Aviano Air Base, Italy, June 1, 2020. Squadrons represented include the 555th and 510th Fighter Squadrons, 56th and 57th Rescue Squadrons, the 606th Air Control Squadron, and the 31st Security Forces Squadron. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Kelsey Tucker)
U.S. Air Force Brig. Gen. Daniel T. Lasica, 31st Fighter Wing commander, overlooks an elephant walk while on an HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopter over Aviano Air Base, Italy, June 1, 2020. Elephant walks are a show of force, demonstrating the might and power of the U.S. Air Force and its bases. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman Thomas S. Keisler IV)
U.S. Air Force aircraft and vehicles assigned to the 31st Fighter Wing line the runway during an elephant walk at Aviano Air Base, Italy, June 1, 2020. Despite the restrictions in place due to COVID-19, the 31st FW remains lethal and combat ready, prepared to deter or defeat any adversary who threatens U.S. or NATO interests. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman Thomas S. Keisler IV)
The 31st Fighter Wing completed the first Elephant Walk in Aviano history, June 1, 2020 at Aviano Air Base, Italy. Launching 23 F-16s one right after the other, with six minutes of uninterrupted after burner—a stirring sight and an important first.
The term Elephant Walk dates back to World War II when the Army Air Forces had a large number of bombers, which would regularly generate attacks in excess of 1,000 aircraft from its Numbered Air Forces. It was named Elephant Walk because the nose-to-tail, single-file taxi movements of bombers resembled the nose-to-tail trail of elephants on their way to the next watering hole.
The 31st FW Elephant Walk demonstrated Aviano Air Base combat readiness through a show of force.
“It is a pretty impressive sight to see the [31st Fighter Wing] combat capable aircraft loaded and ready for takeoff flanked by two HH-60s, which were ready to rescue any downed Airmen with the support of PRIMO lining the runway all at the same time,” said U.S. Air Force Major Michael Watts, 510th Fighter Squadron assistant director of operations. “The 31st FW was able to demonstrate the readiness and ability to generate and mobilize its forces, which it would do in response to any major crisis.”
The Elephant Walk also intended a Slovenian show of gratitude to essential workers amidst the challenges of COVID-19.
“We were very fortunate to have the opportunity to work side-by-side with one of our great NATO allies here in the region,” said Watts. “Our partnership is easy to see with regards to training, but it was nice to also have the opportunity to show our support and gratitude for those front line workers who have sacrificed so much in this fight against COVID-19.”
The flight was led by three Slovenian Air Force PC-9s and six F-16’s from the 31st Fighter Wing, said Watts, and also included visits to regional Italian cities affected by the virus.
The Elephant Walk required the support of Airmen across the 31st Fighter Wing, including the 31st Maintenance Group.
“The Elephant walk would never happen if it weren’t for the hard work and dedication of our maintenance Airmen,” said Watts. “To perform an event like this we had to use almost all of the available aircraft that we have here at Aviano, which means maintenance had to generate them to be able to fly…None of this would have happened without the [31st Maintenance Group’s] dedication and skills.”
With the challenges of COVID-19, the 31st Fighter Wing remained resilient, innovative and learned as they navigated through the new ways of everyday life.
Due to COVID-19 restrictions, planning meetings normally conducted in person had to be done online. In the end, Watts said, the situation actually strengthened the team.
“We often find ourselves so focused on what we do in our squadron we forget that we are all fighting together on the same great team,” said Watts. “When we bring it all together you can actually feel how strong we can be working together. This concept continues past just this base, when we join forces with our allied nations we are all strengthened.”