Aircraft from the Royal Australian Air Force and United States Marine Corps participate in an Elephant Walk on the RAAF Base Tindal flight line for Exercise Pitch Black 2022. An elephant walk is a USAF 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. Exercise Pitch Black is the Royal Australian Air Force’s largest and most complex Large Force Employment exercise. Pitch Black 2022 is being conducted at RAAF Bases Darwin, Tindal and Amberley from 19 August to 08 September 22. The term elephant walk dates to World War II when large fleets of allied bombers would conduct attacks in missions containing 1,000 aircraft.
The benefits of an elephant walk include being able to show the capability of the units as well as teamwork. 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. Those who observed this said that the taxiing of these large numbers of aircraft to take off in single file in nose-to-tail formations said that they looked like elephants walking to the next watering hole. Over time, it was incorporated into the lexicon of the United States Air Force to identify a “maximum sortie surge”. The practice is also used by some aerobatic teams, particularly those associated with a military branch such as the Blue Angels or Thunderbirds of the United States and Canada’s Snowbirds.
This year’s exercise will host up to 2500 personnel and around 100 aircraft from 17 participating nations from around the globe. Activities such as Exercise Pitch Black recognise Australia’s strong relationships and the high value we place on regional security and fostering closer ties throughout the Indo-Pacific region. Exercise Pitch Black features a range of realistic, simulated threats which can be found in a modern battle-space environment and is an opportunity to test and improve our force integration utilising one of the largest training airspace areas in the world. Exercise Pitch Black aims to further develop offensive counter air, air interdiction and strike, intelligence, reconnaissance and surveillance capabilities, as well as foster international co-operation with partner forces.