With Winter officially starting on Friday, the lack of snow cover does not mean that a special visitor will have to postpone any travel plans at the beginning of next week. As Christmas falls on Tuesday of next week, many area children have been expressing their worries in recent days that a certain visitor might not be able to find his way to Palo Alto County on Christmas Eve Monday
After being made aware of the youngsters' concerns, the command staff of the North American Air Defense Command is reassuring youngsters not to worry, as on Thursday morning, a flight plan for a special flight, with a command pilot named Claus was filed electronically and all appropriate clearances have been granted for a special one-night trip, from Dec. 24 to Dec. 25.
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, Colorado.
This holiday tradition all came about due to a simple mistake 54 years ago. A store in Colorado Springs, Co. decided to sponsor a telephone line where children could call Santa Claus and tell him their wishes for gifts. But, the telephone numbered was mis-printed with an incorrect digit. Hundreds of youngsters began calling the phone number, but they weren't getting Santa Claus at the North Pole - the eager callers were calling the operations "Hotline" of the CONAD Commander-in-Chief. CONAD Director of Operations, Colonel Harry Shoup, was answering that special phone.
Quickly realizing what had happened, Colonel Shoup had his staff check CONAD's radar data to see if there was any indication of Santa making his way south from the North Pole. To the surprise of the veteran airmen, the CONAD radar network was picking up signs of Santa, so children who called were given an update on Santa's position. Word spread throughout the Rocky Mountain region quickly and soon followed across the United States, giving birth to the tradition that continues Saturday, Christmas Eve, 54 years later.
Even though some names have changed in that time, the mission has remained the same.
Airmen at NORAD's Cheyenne Mountain complex took over the Santa Tracking mission after inheriting the sacred task from CONAD, and will be once again manning the radar and satellite tracking systems through the nighttime hours this weekend while children across North America sleep, dreaming of Santa's visit.
To track Santa, four methods are used - very high-tech, and one that is pretty exciting.
NORAD starts tracking the jolly elf with its' radar tracking systems and also with high-resolution satellite imagery. There are also strategically placed digital camera systems, dubbed the Santa Cams and flights by fighter interceptor aircraft using the eyes of the aircraft pilots themselves.
NORAD's radar system, the North Warning System, consists of around 50 installations located across Canada's Northern border and in Alaska. The instant radar indicates that Santa has lifted off from his North Pole base, NORAD switches tracking to use the same detection satellite network that has 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. Naturally, the red nose of a certain flying reindeer is easily tracked by the heat-detecting satellites, allowing NORAD to follow Santa even through thick fog, clouds and snowfall.
NORAD also uses the network of digital cameras, the Santa Cams, which are activated only on Christmas Eve each year to obtain photographic proof of the progress of Santa.
Finally, pilots of both the United States Air Force and the Royal Canadian Air Force will scramble flights of F18 Hornets, F16 Fighting Falcons and F15 Eagle fighter jets to intercept, visually identify and then fly escort with Santa and his sleigh as it enters North American airspace. Over the years, many pilots have flown as Santa's escorting wingmen with pride each Christmas Eve, and providing photos of the intercepts and escorts of Santa with Santa Cams mounted in their fighters.
For kids of all ages who want to watch Santa's journey on Christmas Eve, 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
You can also track Santa on Facebook! Go to: Facebook.com/noradsanta
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. On Christmas Eve, the men and women of NORAD will work non-stop to watch the skies as they do their part to keep the United States and Canada safe so all can enjoy a safe and Merry Christmas.