PENSACOLA, Fla. — The warmth of a bright red glow traveling across the evening sky will allow the military to assist Santa Claus with his special delivery of gifts across North America on Christmas Eve.
Led by Rudolph and eight reindeer, Santa Claus is expected to arrive over the east coast of the United States on Sunday at just after 11:40 p.m. EST, as he begins his speedy delivery flight, the North American Aerospace Defense Command at NORAD stated on Wednesday.
St. Nicklaus’ golden sleigh is expected to enter over North American airspace on Sunday evening en route to the homes of children and adults from Virginia to California. “(NORAD) in Colorado Springs will follow Santa Claus’s Christmas Eve travels using radar, satellites, jet fighters and special cameras,” Air Force Master Sgt. Chuck Marsh, spokesman for NORAD Tracks Santa program, said.
2017 will mark NORAD’s 62nd year in tracking Santa Claus across most of the western Hemisphere. Rudolph’s bright red nose gives off an infrared signature which allows satellites and radar to detect Santa’s sleigh — code name: Big Red 1.
Canadian NORAD CF-18 fighter pilots will take off from Newfoundland and welcome Santa and his reindeer to North America, where American NORAD jet pilots will escort him in with F-15s or 16s,” Marsh added. At Dobbins Air Reserve Base near Atlanta, a couple of F-16C jets will be fueled and placed on standby mode to assist in tracking the thirty-two foot sleigh.
Volunteers will man the NORAD operations center to answer children’s phone calls from across the globe at 1-877-HI-NORAD, beginning at 6:00 a.m. Air Force officials will field questions in eight languages — English, German, Italian, French, Spanish, Japanese, Portuguese and Chinese.
“We’re expecting more than 1,250 American and Canadian uniformed personnel, (Defense Department) civilians, family members and members of the local community to volunteer their time December 24 to answer the thousands of phone calls and emails that flood in,” Marsh said with a jolly smile.
“From 22,300 miles in space, NORAD will use for the first time the GOES-15 improved earth location accuracy and heat detection infrared equipment from various satellites,” NASA spokesperson Tom Wrublewski said from the Goddard Space Flight Center. “Rudolph’s nose gives off an infrared signature similar to a missile launch and the satellites can detect Rudolph’s bright red nose very precisely.”
Wrublewski added, “NOAA, NASA, and the USAF have satellites precisely positioned and additional volunteers are supporting the improved Santa tracking beginning after sundown on Christmas Eve.”
In space, NASA has instructed crew members aboard the International Space Station to train high resolution cameras on Santa’s sleigh as the orbital outpost soars 250 miles above. Astronauts Joe Acaba and Scott Tingle will train 400 and 800 mm camera lens through the station’s Cupola windows to capture the rare flyby.
Master Sgt. Marsh reminds children to fall asleep early on Christmas Eve to ensure a speedy trip by Santa. “We love the opportunity this time of year to be able to say to everyone, ‘Sleep tight. We have the watch’.”
(Charles A Atkeison reports on aerospace and technology. Follow his updates via social media @Military_Flight.)