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Mysterious Visitor To Be Watched Closely

By Staff | Dec 24, 2009

The dire forecasts of snow on this Christmas Eve and Christmas morning have many children around the area highly concerned that a certain visitor might not be able to find his way to Palo Alto County this evening. However, the command staff of the North American Air Defense Command is reassuring children of all age to sleep well tonight, as the flight plan of a Mr. S. Claus has been filed with the proper authorities and all clearances have been granted for a special one-night trip.

For over 50 years, NORAD and its predecessor, the Continental Air Defense Command (CONAD) has tracked Santa during his Christmas Eve travels across the North American continent.

In 1958, the governments of Canada and the United States joined forces to create a centralized air defense command for the North American continent called the North American Air Defense Command. Canada and the U.S. believed they could better defend North America together as a team, based at a facility built inside Cheyenne Mountain, CO.

The first actual tracking of Santa on Christmas Eve began in 1956 – but not because of National Security.

This holiday tradition all came about, and continues tonight, all due to a simple mistake some 54 years ago, when a Colorado Springs, Co. business sponsored a telephone line where children could call Santa Claus and tell him their wishes for gifts. But, the telephone number was printed incorrectly in a newspaper.

Hundreds of youngsters began calling the phone number, but the calls weren’t going to the North Pole – the young callers were reaching the operations “HOTLINE” of CONAD instead. Director of Operations, Colonel Harry Shoup quickly realized what had happened, so Colonel Shoup had his staff check CONAD’s radar data to see if the radar units could pick up traces of Santa making his way south from the North Pole.

Indeed, there were signs of Santa on the radar screens, so children who called were updated on Santa’s position on Christmas Eve.

Word spread across the United States after that and now, 54 years later, the dedicated men and women of NORAD inside Cheyenne Mountain are at their posts, just as they have been since 1958 when NORAD was created, providing radar and satellite tracking and updates online of the travels of Mr. Claus.

So how does the tracking of Santa’s flight actually take place?

NORAD uses four high-tech systems to track Santa on his trip – starting with the traditional radar systems, of course, as well as high-resolution satellite imagery, Santa Cams and flights by fighter -interceptor aircraft using the time-tested Mark I eyeball.

The first step of the tracking process is NORAD’s North Warning System. This powerful radar system has 47 installations located across Canada’s Northern border and in Alaska. The instant radar indicates that Santa has lifted off from his North Pole base of operations, NORAD personnel immediately switch tracking to use the same detection satellites that have the primary mission of providing warning of possible missile launches aimed at North America. These satellites are equipped with infrared sensors, which enable the satellites to detect heat-generating sources.

According to scientists, Rudolph’s nose gives off an infrared signature not all that different from a missile launch. Armed with that information, the detection satellites can detect Rudolph’s brilliant red nose with practically no problem, even through clouds, fog and snowfall.

The third system used to track Santa is known as the Santa Cam. NORAD Santa Cams are high-tech, high-speed digital cameras that are pre-positioned at many places around the world. NORAD only uses these cameras on Christmas Eve.

The last tracking system is the flights of all-weather fighter jets. When ordered to intercept the radar target believed to be Santa, the pilots fly close enough to look at the contact. Canadian NORAD fighter pilots are scrambled in Newfoundland to intercept and welcome Santa to North America. As these flights meet up with the jolly elf and his team of reindeer and sleigh, the pilots fly in formation, escorting Santa’s sleigh across Canada.

As Santa crosses into United States airspace, Air Force pilots take over the escort with pride. The escorting flights of F 18 Hornets and F16 Fighting Falcons are also equipped with Santa Cams to provide video for the NORAD tracking network.

For those who want to keep track of Santa’s journey tonight, real-time updates, video and photos from NORAD’s tracking network can be viewed at the special NORAD Santa Tracking website at www.noradsanta.org

While the men and women of NORAD are pleased to offer this important service to the children of the world on Christmas Eve, their watch over the skies continues day in and day out. NORAD is constantly on alert, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. NORAD’s mission has evolved over the years to meet the aerospace defense needs of Canada and the United States. The most recent “evolution” in NORAD’s mission came as a result of September 11, 2001. Because of that day, NORAD now monitors the airspace within Canada and the United States, too.

But on this most special night, the men and women of NORAD will be extra alert in their watch of the skies to keep the United States and Canada safe for everyone to enjoy a safe and Merry Christmas.