NORAD on alert for Santa Claus' magical flight
Published Friday, December 23, 2011 10:14PM EST
Fighter pilots are on standby today, ready to track and escort Santa Claus when he enters Canadian airspace on Christmas Eve.
The North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) has its 47 North Warning System radar installations pointed north, where they are watching for any signs Santa Claus has departed the North Pole.
Then, radar and satellite systems monitored by the Canadian Air Defence Sector Operations Centre at 22 Wing in North Bay, Ont. set their sets on the skies over Newfoundland and Labrador, where Santa and his sleigh are expected to enter Canadian airspace.
As soon as they detect the jolly fat man approaching North America, Captains Gregory Myers and Aaron Dhillon of 425 Tactical Fighter Squadron will be scrambled to welcome and escort him on the first leg of his Canadian delivery mission.
Deploying from 3 Wing Bagotville in Quebec, they'll fly their CF-18 Hornet fighter jets as official escorts while Santa makes his crucial deliveries across eastern Canada.
As Santa makes his way westward, the Commanding Officer of 410 Tactical Fighter Squadron, Lieutenant Colonel Christopher Hamilton, will be joined by Captain Corey Mask of 4 Wing Cold Lake, Alberta to assume escort duties over Western Canada.
Although the CF-18 has a top airspeed of Mach 1.8, the fighter jets are nowhere near as fast or manouverable as Santa's magical reindeer-powered sleigh.
Due to their longstanding relationship, however, Santa will typically slow down enough to make contact with the escort jets.
To keep up with Santa's speedy progress, the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) uses highly-secretive, geosynchronous satellite tracking technology. Even from their orbit at more than 36,000 kilometres above the Earth, the satellite's specially-calibrated infrared technology is able to detect the heat signature of Rudolph's glowing red nose.
To follow Santa's round-the-world journey, visit NORAD's purpose-built website www.noradsanta.org. Besides catching up on Santa's preparations for his whirlwind mission, visitors to the site can also watch exclusive video streams captured by strategically located "Santa cams" that NORAD maintains at locations worldwide.
These high-tech, high speed cameras are so fast they can actually capture high-resolution images that would otherwise appear to the naked eye as an impossibly fast-moving red streak.
Although this may seem to be a near-impossible technical feat, NORAD, and its predecessor Continental Air Defense Command, have been refining their methods of helping children and parents pinpoint Santa's location for more than 50 years.
It all began in 1955, when a misprint in an advertisement inviting kids to phone Santa at the North Pole on Christmas Eve connected a young caller to a U.S. Air Force Colonel instead.
When Col. Harry Shoup realized the caller was inquiring about Santa's whereabouts, he ordered his staff to put their considerable expertise to use tracking the magical sleigh.
The operation has since grown into a year-round mission involving more than 1,500 NORAD staff and volunteers.
In a sign of the times, Santa can now be tracked through a myriad of ways including:
- On your computer, log on to Google Earth to track Santa's progress in 3D
- On the road, drivers with OnStar-equipped vehicles can press their blue button and request a "Santa Update" anytime between 7 a.m. EST on Christmas Eve and 5 a.m. EST on Christmas morning.
- You can even phone for updates, starting at 6 a.m. EST, live phone operators are standing by to answer calls placed to the toll-free number 1-877-Hi-NORAD.
- Alternately, location update requests can be sent email to firstname.lastname@example.org
- And finally, you better believe that Santa's being tracked on Facebook too!