How NORAD tracks Santa Claus on Christmas Eve

TULSA, Okla. — It’s a mission NORAD takes on every December.

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“I have always loved tracking,” said Air Force Veteran Stacey Knott. “I grew up tracking Santa. In fact, I grew up right there in Oklahoma.”

Knott says NORAD Santa tracking actually started with a mistake.

In 1955, a newspaper printed an ad with an image of Santa Clause and a phone number for kids to call. The phone number ended up being a classified military number.

Colonel (Harry) Shoup was on duty and the dreaded red phone started to ring, Knott said.

“The phone usually it was the president or joint chiefs of staff calling for something really important, but that day it was a child who called and in a sweet little voice asked if he was Santa, Knott said.

At first, the Colonel thought someone was playing a trick on him, but he quickly figured out what had happened.

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“He directed his crew on duty that day to answer any calls and from there the tradition was born and we’ve been doing it ever since,” Knott said.

NORAD uses its military radar, fighter jets, satellites and what they call Santa cameras to capture Santa flying by landmarks around the world on Christmas Eve.

“We really get into the spirit of it, our fighter pilots go up and intercept Santa as he’s coming in they fly up and see him and wave to him they do a wing tilt,” Knott said.

Captain Joseph Paddock, based with the 138th Fighter Wing at the Tulsa Air National Guard Base helps with tracking during Christmas Eve.

“We go up and intercept Santa every year and we try to keep up but he’s just too fast he can outrun us even though we can go pretty fast, Santa’s sleigh is faster,” Paddock said.

Paddock said he has caught a glimpse of Santa.

“It’s usually a blur but sometimes he slows down to wave at us and we get a good look at him and the reindeer,” Paddock said.

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