The 354th Fighter Wing and 168th Wing Air National Guard conducted a readiness exercise on Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska, Dec. 18, 2020. Eielson conducted a runway formation called an “Elephant Walk” demonstrating the rapid mobility of the flying units and Eielson’s arctic expertise working in temperatures below 40 degrees Fahrenheit. 18 F-35A Lightning IIs, 12 F-16 Fighting Falcons and 2 KC-135 Stratotankers took part in this formation.
An elephant walk is an United States Air Force term for the taxiing of military aircraft right before takeoff, when they are in close formation. Often, it takes place right before a minimum interval takeoff. The term elephant walk dates to World War II when large fleets of allied bombers would conduct attacks in missions containing 1,000 aircraft. It is often performed to prepare squadrons for wartime operations and to prepare pilots for the launching of fully armed aircraft in one mass event.
Eielson Air Force Base (AFB) is a United States Air Force base located approximately 26 miles (42 km) southeast of Fairbanks, Alaska and just southeast of Moose Creek, Alaska. It was established in 1943 as Mile 26 Satellite Field and taken off deployment in 2007. It has been a Superfund site since 1989. Eielson AFB was named in honor of polar pilot Carl Ben Eielson. Its host unit is the 354th Fighter Wing (354 FW) assigned to the Eleventh Air Force of the Pacific Air Forces and support RED FLAG-Alaska, a series of Pacific Air Forces commander–directed field training exercises for U.S. Forces.
Eielson projects to have 54 F-35s assigned to the installation, of which the first two aircraft arrived on April 21, 2020. The remaining 52 aircraft are forecast to arrive as they are produced through December 2021. The planes are to come with an estimated 3,500 personnel, to include airmen and their families as well as civilian personnel. The F-35 program will increase the number of military personnel at Eielson by about 50 percent, which is a significant change for a base once on the brink of closure.