Dutch F-16 fighters conduct elephant walk at Volkel AFB

Dutch F16 elephant walk Volkel
Dutch F-16 fighters conduct elephant walk at Volkel AFB.

On November 3, 2021, a special occasion took place at the Dutch airbase Volkel. The Royal Netherlands Air Force carried out a preparedness exercise in which they managed to launch no more than fourteen F-16s. For this special occasion, a photo opportunity was also planned at the base. The fourteen aircraft of the no 312 Squadron would line up in a formation close to each other on the runway of Volkel. When many planes are so close together, ready for take off, it is called an "Elephant Walk". This in comparison with a herd of elephants that in nature always walk in groups close to each other. 

Dutch F16 elephant walk Volkel

This "Elephant Walk" was very special, as this is very rare with so many F-16s on Dutch soil. This year the 312 Squadron is 70 years old. The F-16 unit nicknamed “Bonzo” was founded in 1951 at Volkel Air Base and therefore celebrated its anniversary this year. It is therefore not surprising that the first aircraft in this “Elephant Walk” had a special tail in honor of the unit's 70th anniversary. The J-197 carried the large well-known crossed swords of the 312 Squadron large on the tail. The day before the walk, this aircraft was foreseen with this special color scheme.

Dutch F16 elephant walk Volkel

Yet it is not the first time that a squadron from the Netherlands has performed such a formation on Dutch soil. At the beginning of this year, the 300 Squadron from Gilze-Rijen Air Base carried out a close formation flight with no fewer than six Cougar helicopters. Also here, some time was scheduled to pose for the camera with a small group of photo and video makers. However, these types of formations are not always only performed for a special occasion, but they do have an operational military function. For example, the 336 Squadron annually exercises with several European units at Eindhoven during the exercise Falcon Leap. During this exercise it is important that the transport aircraft with the paratroopers on board take off in a compact formation in close succession, because forming in the air with heavy aircraft is difficult. In order to take off compactly, the aircraft on the ground perform a true “Elephant Walk”. The Hercules transport aircraft taxi in close formation to the head of the runway, taking off in in a very short time frame. This way of operating has therefore an important operational function for the Royal Netherlands Air Force.

Dutch F16 elephant walk Volkel

This way of launching also has an important function in the case of the F-16s of the 312 squadron. In times of war, the combat aircraft must also be able to take off with as many aircraft as possible in the shortest possible time. Although a massive air war is almost unimaginable today, the Air Force must still be prepared for these kinds of tasks. Even at Volkel, the "Elephant Walk" has a training element, despite the fact that it is beautiful on photo and film. When the formation of F-16s had taken off, a massive scenario was flown over the sea north of the Netherlands. Also involved in this training were Belgian and Danish F-16s who all flew from their own fields to train with the Dutch.

Text: Alex van Noije & Joris van Boven
Phots: Alex van Noije
Video: Alex van Noije

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