109AW conducts first ever elephant walk

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Madison Daquelente
  • 109th Airlift Wing

Airmen assigned to the New York Air National Guard’s 109th Airlift Wing made history with the unit’s first “elephant walk” held September 10, 2022.

Nine of the wing’s aircraft taxied down the runway in intervals and later took off to fly training missions around the northeast.

The term elephant walk dates back to World War II when large fleets of aircraft would taxi close together. The Airman at the time said it looked like a herd of elephants marching to a watering hole.

The event required extensive preparation, coordination and effort to ensure maintenance, operations and aircrew planning were all aligned and timed correctly, said Colonel Christian Sander, 109th Airlift Wing Commander.

The elephant walk served as a morale and team bonding opportunity for Airmen as they worked diligently in the days prior to ensure all nine aircraft, three C130’s and six LC-130H’s, were fit to fly for the event, he said.

“I am extremely proud of this enormous first-ever, all-in, nine aircraft accomplishment,” Sander said. “Never in the history of the 109th have we ever attempted nor succeeded in such an ambitious effort.”

“Each one of us was standing a little taller and walking a little prouder as we witnessed all nine take to the sky and depart for a full training sortie. The 109th possesses some of the greatest airmen in the entire country and we unequivocally proved that through this event,” Sander said.

The effort is best described as all hands on deck, said Master Sgt. Dave Cunningham, production superintendent at the 109th.

Cunningham is responsible for planning and scheduling the maintenance components needed to keep the 109th’s aircraft operational.

“The whole concept behind this walk was teamwork, camaraderie and getting everybody in the maintenance section to understand that we all have a part here,” Cunningham said.

Between the Greenland season coming to a close and the elephant walk, maintenance crews had less than two weeks to make sure everything was operable, he explained.

“We were strapped for time, and some had their doubts it would even happen,” Cunningham said.

120 Airmen from the maintenance section were split into four teams and assigned specific aircraft to prepare for the event. He created teams to give the Airmen a sense of responsibility and friendly competition, Cunningham explained.

“We took people who are usually in the back shop and put them in charge of the teams. It gave people new goals to reach, and they exceeded those goals. Everybody did an overall excellent job,” he said.

The objective to launch all nine aircraft at once challenged all parts of the wing, he said.

“This was the first walk I’ve ever seen or been a part of. Planning our local missions is one thing, but I didn't think of all the other entities on base that would have to get involved to organize something like this,” Cunningham said.

Major N. Justin Garren, operations officer for the 139th Airlift Squadron, who coordinated the flight plans, said planning nine separate training flights was more complex than usual.

“All of our aircraft were going separate directions around the state, so there was a lot of arranging to do with the airfields. We had to coordinate a staggered return as well so that nine aircraft weren’t trying to land here all at the same time,” Garren said.

Garren said he was proud of the aircrews, but not surprised the elephant walk was such a success.

“This is what we do on a daily basis, whether it's flying cargo to some of the most remote places on the planet or putting nine in the sky in the local area. This is what we do, and we do it well,” he said.

For one of the aircraft, the September 10 flight was its last mission with the 109th.

Aircraft Skier 89 flew its last training mission before heading to Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst later this month where it will be used as a training aircraft for the Army.

The lead crew chief of Skier 89, Master Sgt. Dan McLouglin, passed away earlier this year. As a crew chief, McLouglin ensured all aspects of his aircraft were well-maintained.

“It was a nice touch to get to see Skier 89 lead the pack out,” Garren said. The crew took a lot of pride in honoring Master Sgt. McLouglin and his aircraft one last time, he said.

Spectators from all over the base came out to the flightline to watch the historical elephant walk.

“When I looked around, I don’t think I saw one person without a smile on their face,” Cunningham said.