305th Airmen execute 'Elephant Walk' in stride
The lumbering formation of KC-10s taxing out is affectionately known to aircrew and maintainers as an “Elephant Walk.” 'Elephant Walk' is a unique Air Force term introduced during World War II, eventually becoming a part of the Air Force's institutional language. The Army Air Corps' large fleet of bombers would regularly conduct attacks by sorties comprising more than 1,000 aircraft. Observers commented that the nose-to-tail, single-file taxi movements of the heavily-laden bombers paralleled the nose-to-tail trail of lumbering elephants on their way to the next watering hole. The term stuck and the Elephant Walk remained commonplace through the Cold War when large formations of tankers and bombers would execute taxi drills routinely. (U.S. Air Force photo by Russell Meseroll/Released)
by Airman 1st Class Dennis L. Sloan
Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst Public Affairs Office
12/20/2011 - JOINT BASE MCGUIRE-DIX-LAKEHURST, N.J. -- For the first time in five years, the 305th Air Mobility Wing completed its first "Maximum Effort" large-formation tanker surge - also known during large-formation taxi operations as an "Elephant Walk" - Dec. 20 here.
This "Elephant walk" comprised the launching of 12 KC-10 Extenders on the ramp, one right after the other, in a 30-minute time period.
KC-10 air refuelers are the lifeline of global reach, increasing range, payload and flexibility. Air Force tankers can also refuel Navy, Marine and NATO aircraft and have an inherent cargo-carrying capability.
"With our high operations tempo and the recent events in Libya, we have been stretched thin, leaving little time to train," said Lt. Col. Jimmy Shaw, 305th Operations Group deputy commander. "Fortunately, Air Mobility Command is rotating through the tanker units providing us a couple of weeks to focus our efforts on training, maintenance and family."
Large-formation training is a fundamental element when preparing for Global Strike Missions. While recent and current contingency operations have not required large formations of aerial refueling tankers, the KC-10 has mission requirements that include such complex procedures.
"Large-formation tanker flying is a skill set that used to be routinely practiced, but that is at risk of being lost given the single-ship focus and high tempo of our efforts over the last ten years in support of operations in the Middle East," said Col. Paul Murphy, 305th Air Mobility Wing commander.
Global Strike Missions consist of large formations of aircraft flying long distances to reach strategic targets. Tankers, such as the KC-10, launch in large groups to provide an aerial "gas station" for formations. The flying fuel tanks will create a layered affect flying at different altitudes to allow maximum off-loading at minimum risk.
"Being able to support a Global Strike Mission is one of our core competencies," said Col. John Roscoe, 305th OG commander. "It is vital we are able to perform this mission so we can support Global Strike Missions and ultimately the war on terrorism."
This achievement required tremendous effort and cooperation from both the flying and maintenance teams. The 305th Maintenance Group increased manning on three consecutive 12-hour shifts. The unit's increased manpower enabled the generation, launch and recovery of the aircraft from start to finish. Moreover, a comprehensive maintenance effort allowed every KC-10 aircraft not on the road or undergoing long-term maintenance, to be used for this operation.
Colonel Chip Hill, 305th MXG commander, appeared to beam with pride as the last tanker disappeared from view into the overcast skies. "This training exercise is yet another example of the tremendous professionalism and teamwork of our maintenance and operations groups," said Hill, "Every member of the 605th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron and this maintenance group, whether aircraft mechanics or aerial porters, military or civilian, executed their roles with pride and carried forward the tremendous legacy of the 'Can Do' wing with this max effort."
According to Murphy, the exercise had several useful elements with applications to various mission sets that the KC-10 must be able to execute on short notice and that the 305th AMW, 514th Air Mobility Wing and 87th Air Base Wing must partner to make happen. These include the ability to rapidly generate a large number of aircraft for operational missions or, as happened during Hurricane Irene, to rapidly redeploy the fleet during an evacuation for destructive weather.
"There is no question we could not sustain the level of performance demanded of us without our Reserve partners. The level of experience and technical proficiency they bring to the fight, both at home station and deployed is priceless," according to Murphy.
Reserve Airmen from the 514th AMW also participated, flying four of the 12 Extenders and providing aircraft maintenance support. The Total Force effort to execute the exercise was indicative of the daily integration that has become routine practice between the 514th AMW and 305th AMW.
Mission commander, Lt. Col. Erik Simonsen, said, "The mission was a huge success and we achieved all the objectives we set out to accomplish. We didn't do everything perfectly, but really, for doing such a large exercise the first time in such a long time, I think we achieved a lot." Simonsen, who is also the 32nd Air Refueling Squadron commander, added, "Overall, I think we did really well. Everybody pulled together and it was a fantastic exercise of twelve aircraft showcasing AMC's global mission."
The maximum effort put forth by multitudes of Airmen and civilians from myriad specialties to ensure the success of this year-end culmination exercise was an appropriate finale for a year wrought with high-operations tempo, deployments, critical inspections and global support.
"This was a great way to finish a tremendous year," noted Murphy, "I couldn't be prouder of our world-class active and Reserve maintainers and aircrews for making this go so successfully. This past year has been pretty rough on our force, but we hadn't done anything so compressed as launching twelve aircraft in thirty minutes in a very long time. It is a critical capability we have exercised today and we'll be better for it in the future. Now it's time to ease back on the throttle and allow our flyers and maintainers some extra well-deserved time with family for all."