Photos: Airmen and Aircraft Take Part in a Unique, Massive Elephant Walk at Sheppard

Air Force leaders often promote the skill of America’s Airmen as the U.S. military’s most powerful, if intangible, advantage. Officials at Sheppard Air Force Base, Texas, found a way to highlight the human element of airpower recently: an elephant walk with its aircraft and Airmen.

Elephant walks are used as a show of force, with fighters, bombers, and other aircraft coming together on the same runway to send the message that the USAF has plenty of powerful hardware at its disposal.

On April 7, Sheppard lined up 4,000 Airmen and 80 trainer aircraft on a runway to showcase the power of its people as well as its planes. The base said it was possibly the largest elephant walk in Air Force history—nearly 70 F-15Es took part in an elephant walk in 2012. Sheppard hosts technical and flying training, allowing for a unique display of man and machine. The base trains pilots in partnership with U.S. allies, many of whom were in their jets during the elephant walk, giving it an international aspect, a base spokesperson told Air & Space Forces Magazine.

“This elephant walk really illustrates the scope and magnitude of what we do here,” Brig. Gen. Lyle K. Drew, commander of the 82nd Training Wing, said in a news release. “The key to airpower is exceptional Airmen, and the key to exceptional Airmen is exceptional training. That’s what we do here at Sheppard, and this elephant walk was our message to the world that the U.S. and its international partners remain committed to delivering the best-trained Airmen in the world.”

Around 65,000 Airmen pass through Sheppard annually, and roughly 150,000 of the USAF’s Active-Duty Airmen were trained at Sheppard, the spokesperson said. The 82nd Training Wing is the Air Force’s largest technical training wing.

Airmen from the wing lined the runway in front of the horde of aircraft from the 80th Flying Training Wing, which brought out 40 T-6 Texan and 40 T-38 Talon trainers. The 80th Flying Training Wing hosts the Euro-NATO Joint Jet Pilot Training Program—known as ENJJPT—which teaches foreign combat pilots through a partnership between the U.S. and its allies.

“The fundamental technical and pilot training missions that happen here every day affect literally every base and every combat sortie in the Air Force–not to mention the impact on our global partners,” Col. Brad Orgeron, the commander of the 80th Flying Training Wing, said. The base trains Airmen in 52 specialties, with a contingent of international students passing through at any given time as well. The 80th trains pilots in a partnership with 14 countries, with around 200 new pilots earning their wings there. Five NATO members—Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, Norway, and Denmark—only train new fighter pilots at Sheppard, the base spokesperson added.

“We want our allies to know that we are committed to and value our shared training experience with them, and we want our potential adversaries to know that we are bound together with our friends and partners from the very beginning of our military careers as we train side by side to defend our way of life,” Orgeron said.