The U.S. Air Force 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. 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. 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 U.S. Air Force Major Michael Watts, 510th Fighter Squadron assistant director of operations.
The Elephant Walk also intended a Slovenian show of gratitude to essential workers amidst the challenges of 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. 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.
Aviano Air Base (Base aerea di Aviano) is a base in northeastern Italy, in the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region. It is located in the Aviano municipality, at the foot of the Carnic Pre-Alps, or Southern Carnic Alps, about 15 kilometres (9.3 mi) from Pordenone. The Italian Air Force has ownership; it has also administrative, and military control of the base. It hosts around 50 nuclear weapons. It hosts the U.S. Air Force’s 31st Fighter Wing too, the only U.S. fighter wing south of the Alps. This strategic location makes the wing critical to operations in NATO’s southern region. The 31st FW maintains two F-16 fighter squadrons, the 555th and the 510th Fighter Squadrons.