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Rudolph no longer a radar-nosed reindeer

The FAA says nose of Santa's favorite sleigh-guider has been outfitted with new satellite-based avionics that will let St. Nick more safely deliver toys to tots.

Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus, and he's equipped with the latest in satellite-based technology to get you your toys on time (and in one piece).

So says the Federal Aviation Administration, which announced this week that its safety inspectors had certified St. Nick's sleigh, Santa One, for its annual chimney-chasing trek around the globe.

"Children around the world will get their gifts on time, regardless of the weather, thanks to NextGen," a new air traffic control technology, U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said in a statement. "We're proud to say NextGen is bringing Santa Claus to town."

FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt chimed in: "Santa's cockpit display will help improve his situational awareness by showing him and his reindeer flight crew their precise location in relation to other aircraft, bad weather, and terrain. NextGen will help make this an extra-safe Christmas Eve."

The FAA is phasing out its antiquated radar-reliant air traffic control system and setting up NextGen, a system that relies on data from the global satellite network.

As CNET's Michelle Meyers has reported, the FAA says ADS-B, the technology at the heart of the new system, will enable both pilots and controllers to see radarlike displays with highly accurate traffic data from satellites. The displays will update in real time and won't degrade with distance or terrain, according to the agency. And better access to weather services, terrain maps, and flight information services should mean pilots (not to mention jolly old souls) will be able to maintain safe distances from one another (or chimneys) with less assistance from air controllers.

In June, Boeing won the contract from the FAA to create the NextGen system. The aviation giant will design NextGen to handle all varieties of traffic, including commercial, military, general aviation, unmanned aerial systems, and rotorcraft.

A Nick's-eye view of Santa One's high-tech cockpit. Santa Claus and his BeardCam, for the FAA

This appears to be the first time a flying sleigh has been equipped, let alone one powered by eight or nine tiny reindeer and serviced by elves. The FAA said Rudolph's red nose has been outfitted with NextGen technology and will broadcast Santa One's position via satellites to air traffic controllers worldwide.

"Rudolph with your nose so wired, won't you guide us as desired?" Santa Claus asked the diminutive caribou.

"Ho, ho," Rudolph replied.

"Ho," added Claus.

None of the other tiny, hoofed crew members was immediately available for comment--neither Dasher nor Dancer nor Prancer nor Vixen, Comet nor Cupid nor Donner nor Blitzen.

Children and the young at heart can Eve's-drop on Claus' journey courtesy of the North American Aerospace Defense Command, at the "NORAD Tracks Santa" Web site:

Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night.