It was bitter cold as I stepped away from the relatively warm comfort of the sleigh into the wind-driven snow. An elf on each side of me, I was led blind-folded through one of the most secret complexes known throughout history. Very few know its exact location, and none of them are mortal.
While I trudged unseeingly through knee-deep snow, I reminded myself how lucky I was to be here. Even though its his busiest time of the year, the big man himself had agreed to a short interview. Turns out the jolly old toy maker is an avid fan of the About.com U.S. Military site in the slower summer months.
"Santa likes to keep up on the latest military technology," the elf on my left explained, his high voice almost swept away by the howling wind. "As you know, Santa has to travel all over the world in a single night, and that means he has to take shortcuts through restricted military airspaces. He kind of likes to keep track on what's out there that could threaten his yearly mission."
That's exactly why I was here. I wanted to find out exactly what kind of advanced technology was in use to enable someone to travel around the world, visiting every single boy and girl, all in a single night. I suspected I was onto the story of the century.
"I'm afraid most of that is highly classified," said the jolly man in the bright red suit, as he thoughtfully stroked his clean white beard, a few minutes later in his study. I was sitting in a soft, fur-lined easy chair facing the legend himself. A steaming cup of hot chocolate was pleasantly warming the chill in my bones.
"Come on, Kris. I've traveled a long way. You've got to give me something." I wasn't looking forward to making that cold trek back to the sleigh empty-handed.
"Well," he said, "in simple terms it boils down to a combination of sheer speed and time distortion." Santa reached for a cookie on the desk and took a small sip of milk from the glass in his hand.
"As Albert Einstein proved in 1915, the faster one travels, the slower one experiences time. On my annual trip, what seems like 24 hours to you, seems like weeks to me."
"My sleigh employs a 9RP (Reindeer Power) power plant that is faster than any fighter aircraft in any military arsenal. I'm afraid the actual mach number is classified," he continued. "The sleigh also has a climb rate of 1T."
At my questioning look, Santa went on to explain, "That's one twinkle, which is a standard measure used by elves, fairy godmothers, and little stars. Also, part of my famous 'bowlful of jelly' belly is actually an advanced G-suit that helps me maintain consciousness in hard turns and climbs."
"That's amazing!" I exclaimed. "That explains why no country's military has ever accidentally shot you down."
The old man gave a chuckle. With typical fighter pilot bravado he said, "If anyone tried, I'd just throw those 9P's into afterburner, and I'm outta there!"
"Seriously," he continued, "While my sleigh employs some pretty sophisticated counter measures -- sorry, those are also classified -- I've never had to use them. I've never been shot at."
Santa reached for another cookie. "Part of this is probably because of the full disclosure agreement I made with the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) way back in 1955. That year a Colorado department store ran an advertisement inviting calls to me. But the number advertised was one digit different from the NORAD emergency phone. Col. Harry Shoup, the on-duty crew commander for the former Continental Air Defense Command, took the first call and told the young caller that they had spotted Santa on the radar."
"When I read about it in the paper, I couldn't help but give out a loud 'Ho-Ho-Ho'," Santa chuckled. "But then I thought it over. Why not cooperate with NORAD so that they could track my trip? In that way, they could provide my flight progress information to all the little children in the world. As an added benefit, military forces around the world would know its me and not some hostile invasion force."
Each year, Santa provides his flight plan to NORAD in order to make it easier to track his progress. He's also supplied them with the unique infrared signature of the sleigh, which is unusually pronounced because of the red nose of the lead reindeer, Rudolph.
With improved technology over the years, Santa is now tracked by satellite and by SantaCams strategically placed in undisclosed locations around the globe.
Tiny tots with their eyes all aglow who find it hard to sleep can log on to www.noradsanta.org for updates. Beginning at 2:00 am MTN on Christmas Eve, Santa can be tracked live as he makes his annual journey to bring toys to all the boys and girls around the world.
As with previous years, as Santa enters North American airspace over Newfoundland, Canadian F/A-18 Hornets will escort him to the United States. They will make the handoff over New Brunswick, Maine, to a flight of Air Force F-15 Eagles or F-16 Falcons.
"I have to slow down quite a bit so they can keep up with me," Santa said as we concluded our interview. "But, it's become somewhat of a tradition, and the pilots get a big kick out of flying along side of Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner, Blitzen and Rudolph."
As my elf escort led me back through the bitter cold to my special sleigh transportation, I thought of one question I forgot to ask. "Why couldn't the elves park that sleigh closer to the door?"