An elephant walk is a term for the taxing of military aircraft right before takeoff when they are in close formation. Often, it takes place right before a Minimum Interval Takeoff. The term elephant walks dates to World War II when large fleets of allied bombers would conduct attacks in missions containing 1,000 aircraft.
Those who observed this said that the taxing of these large numbers of aircraft to takeoff in single file in nose-to-tail formations said that they looked like elephants walking to the next watering hole.
During the Operations Linebacker and Linebacker II during the Vietnam War, the term was used as a nickname for the long lines of Boeing B-52 Stratofortress aircraft as they approached their targets.
Although the tight groupings were necessary for electronic warfare, their paths were predictable and they were slow targets for North Vietnamese surface-to-air missiles.
Within two weeks the Air Force had altered their methods and began to vary the incoming paths of bombers. In addition to changing this aspect of the attack, the bombers were told to take longer turns after discharging their load, instead of the sharp turn which gave them greater radar exposure.
The practice is also used by some aerobatic teams, particularly those associated with a military branch such as the Blue Angels or Thunderbirds of the United States and Canada’s Snowbirds, with the teams’ aircraft taxiing in tight formation to the runway and maintaining such grouping during takeoff.