Sunday, December 5, 2004

A Very NORAD Christmas

50 years ago, in Colorado Springs, a store clerk put a sign in his window for a Santa hotline that children could call to learn of Santa’s location. When the first child called the number on Christmas Eve a very startled man answered the phone. Colonel Shoup, Commander of the Continental Air Defense Command (CONAD) – the predecessor of NORAD – answered Cheyenne Mountain’s emergency hotline to hear a child’s voice wondering where Santa currently was.

Colonel Shoup knew almost immediately what had happened and didn’t miss a beat when he went to check Santa’s location, reporting back to the children his whereabouts and answering their Santa questions. A tradition was born, continuing when NORAD formed 3 years later and the Canadian Air Force joined the project.

While Santa has always had government permission to enter the US airspace, it was not until Colonel Shoup’s incident that there was any kind of actual military acknowledgement of the Santa tracking project. Nowadays, there is enormous funding for various Santa’s related projects. Santa benefits from an F-16 escort while traveling in and out of US airspace. Santa’s spokespeople recently issued this statement about the Air Force sorties: “[The escorts] are unnecessary but Santa enjoys seeing the smiling faces of the pilots and the joy that he brings to them.”

NORAD is always thinking of new ways to expand their Santa tracking program. They now have cameras positioned in areas where there is a high chance of seeing Santa. They also have cameras attaching to twelve Air Force F-15 and F-16 fighter jets. Rudolph’s nose is tracked by visual and infrared satellite feeds. All of this surveillance can now be followed online at NORAD’s dedicated Santa Tracking website.

Operators at NORAD are spending part of their Christmas Eve tracking Santa and, more importantly, answering the calls of little children looking for more information. They are watching the skies to keep us and, of course, Santa Claus safe this holiday season. fb

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