As Santa Claus makes his way toward North America, Air Force crews throughout the country -- including Anchorage -- are prepared to track his travels across the sky and scramble jets to follow him Wednesday night.
Every Christmas Eve the North American Aerospace Defense Command, or NORAD, tracks Santa on his visits to children -- both naughty and nice -- all over the planet. Several regional command centers are involved in the effort, including the Alaska NORAD Region post on Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson.
Royal Canadian Air Force Lt. Stanley Rickert, posted to the Alaska NORAD Region, says keeping an eye on Kris Kringle offers a chance for U.S. and Canadian forces to cooperate in a goodwill gesture for children.
“We get the unique opportunity to track Santa during his trek across North America, as soon as he arrives on the Eastern Seaboard up through U.S. and Canada,” Rickert said. “We get the final tail of his journey across North America here in Alaska.”
While Santa’s reindeer move fast enough for him to cover the globe in a day, they also provide a key means for NORAD crews to monitor his progress.
“With our heat satellites, it can pick up the heat signatures from Rudolph’s nose,” Rickert said. “It’s like tracking missiles or anything else NORAD would normally be tracking, and it’s easy for us to follow him across on his journey.”
U.S. Air Force 1st Lt. Jason Cameron, an air weapons officer at the Alaska NORAD Region, says F-22 Raptor stealth fighters, launched from JBER, will provide air cover for Santa’s overflight of Southcentral Alaska. Cameron will be able to monitor the activity on a radar screen, complete with an indicator for the airborne sleigh.
“It will be, in this case, Santa symbology -- and our Raptors will go out and escort him as he flies around Anchorage, dropping off all the gifts,” Cameron said.
Rickert says his two girls, ages 3 and 7, have been delighted by his latest mission.
“It brings joy and hope for the kids out there,” Rickert said. “My kids were really looking forward to it when we came up, when they found out we were getting posted up here to be able to help track Santa across when he makes his trip across Alaska.”
NORAD’s Santa tracker is online Wednesday and can be seen at noradsanta.org.
Channel 2’s Ashleigh Ebert and Shawn Wilson contributed information to this story.