Even Santa Practices

From NAFI's Chair

Even Santa Practices

We flight instructors encourage our students, regardless of their level of achievement, to stay proficient. Whether we want a new student to practice landings, encourage a more advanced pilot to learn more about the aircraft they fly, or ensure that the fundamentals aren't forgotten, we want those we touch to be better pilots. This usually results in a pilot spending a lifetime working to get better at their craft, not unlike a musician practicing pieces they have already played hundreds of times before.

Think of it. How many times have you flown the same instrument approaches? They're familiar, like a good book revisited, but, like rereading that book, we seek nuances and new enjoyment. Hold the course more precisely; maintain airspeed while staying on the glideslope, freezing the needles in the center while striving to land on the exact mark on the runway once we've completed the approach. What a great feeling of satisfaction.

I suspect that these musings come from having seen the Jepps "North Pole Approach" plate posted on social media again this year. It got me to thinking about how Mr. Claus has to practice for his annual ride. After all, even though he's done it for a long time, his big flight comes only once a year and we all know flying skills are perishable. How does he manage to stay on top of the game? Of course! Just like all of us, whether we are low time students or high time Airline Transport Pilots, he practices.

That go me to thinking: what would be an easy to remember route to follow that would be challenging? After giving it some thought, I realized that the easiest thing for Santa to remember and follow would be fixes based on his reindeers' names. So, on a hunch, I went searching for them in ForeFlight. I found COMET, CUPID, VIXEN, DONNR, RUDLF, DASHR, BLITZ, and DANCR. Unfortunately, there was nothing that would seem to correspond to Prancer. Luckily, I don't think Mr. Claus practices engine out procedures.

Using a North Pole to North Pole round robin route, this practice run ranges across to Japan then to Alaska, across the North American continent and down to Honduras, and then back to home. Based on the official closed-course world speed record set by the SR-71 of roughly 1,905 knots, this would be an eight-hour flight. Given that Santa has to cover the entire planet and make deliveries to all (he knows who is naughty or nice) he must go even faster than Pete Knight's Mach 6.7 X-15 flight in 1967. I suspect that there may be quantum and time dilation effects involved. I'll let member and retired SR-71 pilot Col. Richard Graham weigh in on that.

So, as you get ready over the next few days to celebrate the holiday, you may hear a very Doppler-ed "Ho, ho, ho!" following far behind a streak of red light followed by blur. Or, maybe, you might momentarily spy an odd aircraft popping in and out of your current space-time. Don't worry, its just Santa doing what we encourage all pilots to do - working on his proficiency for the big day.

Here's wishing all of you Merry Christmas, the happiest of holidays, a joyous New Year, and goodwill to all.

Bob Meder,
NAFI Board Chair
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