For the 50th consecutive year, the professionals paid to protect North America against an aerospace attack will be intently focused on their jobs Christmas Eve--tracking Santa.
The North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) is celebrating the landmark anniversary of its yearly effort to chart Santa's travels around the world. Each year, the organization pledges to keep a watchful eye on the beloved holiday figure as he navigates his reindeer-powered aircraft across the globe.
The outfit, which is run jointly by the Canadian and U.S. governments, has again set up a Web site to help interested parties follow Santa's voyage. Since 1998, NORAD has provided the online resource, which offers everything from a Santa Cam that captures digital images of the legend as he makes his rounds, to information on each year's honorary Santa tracker. This year's: The Beatles' Ringo Starr.
On Dec. 24, NORAD will employ its North Warning radar system, which features 47 tracking installations strung across Canada's North and Alaska, to monitor Santa's takeoff from the North Pole and follow his flight thereafter. The group relies on satellites located in a geo-synchronous orbit at 22,300 miles above Earth to keep tabs on Santa's ultra-fast aircraft. NORAD said the infrared signature given off by the nose of Santa's lead reindeer, Rudolph, generates a similar footprint to those created by the rockets and missiles the system is designed to follow.
As a precaution, NORAD said it will also deploy jet fighters to protect Santa as he traverses North American airspace. Canadian NORAD fighter pilots, flying the CF-18, will take off from Newfoundland to intercept and welcome Santa as he approaches the continent. In the United States, American NORAD pilots in F-15s and F-16s will assume those duties.
The traditional tracking was launched in 1954 by NORAD's predecessor, the Continental Air Defense Command (CONAD), after a misprinted phone number in an advertisement began diverting children's phone calls meant for Santa to CONAD Commander-in-Chief Col. Harry Shoup. After noting Santa's appearance on the group's instruments, Shoup instituted the practice of officially charting Santa's travels each year.