TAMPA — The elephants took flight one after the other and climbed rapidly into cloudless skies.
Well, not really.
They were actually eight KC-135 Stratotankers at MacDill Air Force Base performing a mission the Air Force has called an "elephant walk" since World War II.
It's called that because the hulking aircraft — pachyderms of the sky — line up single file on the runway awaiting a rapid, en masse takeoff.
MacDill commander Col. Lenny Richoux said the planes, in addition to eight other KC-135s assigned to the base and an array of other aircraft, are headed to temporary homes elsewhere as MacDill's main runway gets routine maintenance.
The runway work is expected to take up to seven weeks. All the planes will be transferred by the end of the month.
The work also provided an opportunity for MacDill personnel to practice a rapid, mass deployment of aircraft — serious choreography.
"It's difficult to get this many planes together," Richoux said. "If we had to go to war, this is what we'd have to do."
The mission went off with no problems, the midair refueling aircraft taking off in two groups of four at 20-second intervals.
Curious Air Force personnel around the base, cameras ready, turned out for the rare event.
Richoux had one word to describe the scene: "Beautiful."
Reach William R. Levesque at [email protected]