PHOTOS: Eight B-2s Gather for Rare ‘Elephant Walk’ of Stealth Bomber

Eight of the Air Force’s 20 B-2s assembled on one runway at Whiteman Air Force Base, Mo., on Nov. 7, for an extremely rare “elephant walk” of the service’s stealth bomber. 

The gathering of B-2s from the 509th Bomb Wing, along with the Air National Guard’s 131st Bomb Wing, capped Exercise Spirit Vigilance, one of a series of “Vigilance” exercises that bomb wings across the Air Force perform throughout the year. “Elephant walks” involve aircraft taxiing in a close formation before rapidly taking off in a show of air power. 

“Exercise Spirit Vigilance is a routine exercise that serves to develop and challenge the skills of the 509th Bomb Wing and ensure our combat mission readiness,” a 509th BW spokesperson told Air & Space Forces Magazine. 

However, it is relatively uncommon for the Air Force to conduct bomber-only elephant walks. Eight B-52s from Barksdale Air Force Base, La., lined up for one in October 2020, and five B-52s participated in one in Guam in April 2020. But there have been no recent public reports of a B-2 elephant walk until now. 

The occasion garnered extra attention, as members of the community around Whiteman were invited to watch from near the flight line, according to images shared by the 509th BW. 

The B-2 entered service in the early 1990s as the Air Force’s first stealth bomber, and fewer than two dozen were produced. After a crash in 2008, the fleet was reduced to just 20 aircraft, meaning the elephant walk at Whiteman included 40 percent of the Air Force’s entire inventory of B-2s. 

According to a 509th BW press release, Exercise Spirit Vigilance tested Airmen’s ability to rapidly prepare and deploy the B-2 “under greater scrutiny and time restraints than the normal day-to-day flying mission,” with the goal of promoting “resilience, innovation, competitiveness, and process improvement.” 

“The B-2 bomber has never been more relevant than it is now. This plane was conceived at the height of the Cold War. Now we find ourselves 30 years later, and the B-2 is in the mission for which it was created: great power competition,” 509th Operations Group commander Col. Geoffrey Steeves said in a video explaining Spirit Vigilance. “An exercise like this is a reminder that the 509th Bomb Wing and the 131st Bomb Wing are ready and willing to execute its mission of nuclear operations and global strike, anytime, anywhere.”