Santa Chooses IFRSim Club for his recurrent training

santa ifrIt’s December 15th and I received a panic call from a little old man by the name of Santa Claus. He explained that he had an annual trip starting on the 24th of December that he has been taking for the past one hundred years, and the world depends on him to get the flight completed by the 25th at 6 am.

There were many issues that needed to be addressed to get him up to speed to make him proficient and his sleigh air-worthy. The first problem to solve was Santa’s biennial flight review. His logbook shows he hasn’t flown since December 25th of last year! In addition, he needed to take an instrument proficiency check ride (FAR 61.58) required by the North Pole Insurance Company. His sleigh is a one of a kind aircraft and requires a special type rating.

The Santa Claus Super Sleigh (“SCSS”) grosses out at over 12,500 lbs, and is elevated by nine turbine-powered reindeer. Santa’s first comment was that his insurance premium had almost doubled since last year and keeping current was tough at the North Pole with the bad weather and six months of darkness and then six months when he can’t get any sleep. He does have a heated hangar for his sleigh and reindeer. To add to the considerations, however, the FAA has instituted restricted airspace with a TFR encompassing a 30 mile arc around his workshop during the month of December. The FAA claims that Mrs. Claus and the Elves’ wives and neighbors all requested it for noise abatement.

To begin his training, Santa and I sat down with a cup of coffee (Starbucks of course) and began the oral portion of his Biennial Flight Review with the typical questions, starting with all the emergency memory items and limitations: Then on to airspace, Class Bravo and Delta airspace are specially designed at the North Pole. Mrs. Claus, wears two hats: she doubles as the North Pole’s air traffic controller and also controls Santa’s private airport.

The airport has pilot controlled lighting, ASOS, GPS/ WAAS, NDB and ILS approaches for these icy low-ceiling IFR days and nights. Our discussion of weather consists primarily of IFR weather as VFR very seldom exists in his part of the world. The airworthiness weight and balance and performance discussions for the Super Sleigh takes a flight engineer to figure out; I have to use the pilot’s operating handbook that the manufacturer supplied for this custom rig. Due to his usual gross weight at takeoff on Christmas Eve, and since he is operating from the North Pole where temperature and density altitude are factors, he has a special waiver from the FAA to depart over gross. When I asked about his absolute altitude and cruise speed he said that was classified and I would have to have a security clearance to get that information. One is reminded that the Air Force usually sends up a group of F-16’s to escort Santa through all the special use airspace and TFRs.

northpole-ifrAfter several calculations using his pilot’s operating handbook we were able to determine the accelerate stop distance, V1, VR, V2 and climb gradient for obstacle clearance on take-off. The landing distances varied in the extreme; many times his sleigh is operated on off airport un-approved airstrips and sometimes on very small pinnacles with brickwork nearby. To help landing performance, the modified sleigh is equipped with anti-skid, speed brakes and reindeer thrust reversers; these are quite a sight and, according to Santa, took Cessna, Boeing and Pratt & Whitney combined to come up with the right “four legged” reverser systems.

Santa’s knowledge of cold weather operations was phenomenal, as he operates in below freezing temperatures most of the year round. He told some harrowing stories about white out conditions and hydroplaning down the North Pole’s single runway.

The SCSS is certified to fly in to known icing conditions, including a heated windscreen plus all the reindeer have heated air intakes and special super-sonic eye protectors. These require fairly frequent maintenance. There are A&P Elves specially trained to make sure the eye protectors work as Santa needs to reach hypersonic speeds to accomplish all he has to do in the short time afforded him; he has to literally reach around the world in ten hours or less. He’s working on a scramjet and considering consulting with Burt Rutan to use some of the Virgin Galactic equipment at the edge of space. It’s reported that Sir Richard Branson is in favor of a cooperative arrangement, and the Elves have sent to Mojave for some Virgin bumper stickers.

Next we discussed the paperwork and logbooks. I can’t recall ever seeing a registration with the registered owner as Santa Claus and an address on Blitzen Drive (at Donner), North Pole, c/o Alaska.  The airframe log books must have had a hundred 337’s for all the special alterations to the SCSS.

The engines, or should I say the reindeer logs, were all in order with oil changes and routine maintenance. The old boy’s Super Sleigh had a current annual inspection and of course included a 24-calendar day pitot-static and transponder check.  The SCSS is well equipped for global navigation. It sports an autopilot, RVSM approved with full five tube EFIS and Garmin 530/430, transponder with TCAS and TWAS and XM weather.

I didn’t realize that Garmin had an STC for an installation on the Santa Claus Super Sleigh. Santa also has an approved MEL, for his tricked out machine.

I am sure he had problems finding mechanics to do repairs and inspections until the FAA suggested that he train some of his Elves; local FAA reps pointed out that much maintenance today is done by elves so why not make use of his already skillful little people? I did notice a signature from a FAA approved repair station entitled Polar Air, “Specialist in Sleigh Modification.”

After all the routine questions and answers we completed the oral and we were ready to fly. I must say Santa was truly the master of his machine. I put him through the paces from rejected takeoff, reindeer-out procedures and all the air work, including the typical takeoffs and landings, including pinnacle landings with nearby obstacles. All the approaches and holding patterns were accomplished in the Frasca simulator including a no-gyro approach. You should have heard the responses from the tower when ATC asked his make and model of sleighcraft. There were some long pauses on the radio; I think ATC was either writing down notes on an “SCSS” or checking with Ok City to make sure they weren’t being bamboozled.

Several controllers, however, when they found out to whom they were speaking, said they had a phone number for him to call when he landed so they could give him their Christmas lists.

My job was complete and I signed off on Santa’s Biennial Flight Review & IPC. I asked him if he had any further questions before he departed on his journey. His comment was, “Mr. Flight Instructor, what would you like Santa to bring you for Christmas?”… “Peace and goodwill to all fellow aviators and may they always have a tailwind!” I said with a smile.

As I bid him farewell, I heard him ask the tower for a low approach. Minutes later he flew by the tower waving and on the radio I could hear him say, as he flew out of sight

“Merry Christmas & Happy Holidays to all
and to all a Good Night!”

Last Updated ( Monday, 22 February 2010 11:41 )

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