Santa's Escort Pilots Named
Combine the innocence of youth, a misprinted phone number and a quick-thinking air defense officer and what do you get? A 50-year tradition of Santa being tracked and guided into North American airspace by folks whose usual duty is to scare away unidentified aircraft. Yes, the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) is again providing regular updates of Santa's progress as he makes his North American rounds. While the operation is headquartered at NORAD's underground surveillance center in Colorado Springs, Canadian military pilots will make first contact with the target, easily distinguished by the bright red nose at the head of the team of reindeer pulling the sleigh. CF-18 pilots Capt. William Radiff and Lt.-Col. Patrice Laroche, of 3 Wing Bagotville, and Capt. Dave Monk and Maj. Alex Day of 4 Wing Cold Lake, are this years official escort pilots. The tradition began with a mistake in an ad in a Colorado Springs newspaper in 1955. The Sears ad offered kids a chance to talk to Santa by phone but the number listed actually took them to the hotline in the nerve center in Cheyenne Mountain. The officer on duty quickly figured out what had happened and played along. Now hundreds of military personnel are involved with the project, which includes an elaborate Web site and phones manned by volunteers who tell callers where Santa appears on their radars. Hundreds of media calls are also received. Not to be outdone by the military, Secretary of Transportation Norman Mineta has issued blanket clearance for Santa to use U.S. airspace for his rounds. Wonder what the TSA has to say about that?