An Aircraft Review

By Hank Gibson, CFI, CFII, MEI

As all readers know, Sunday was Christmas. In Texas, where I live, it was actually cold. The thing with Texas is, you never know what the weather is going to do. One year, it was 80 degrees! That doesn’t sound very Christmasy, does it? I digress.

Anyway, I had heard through the wires last week that Santa had finally upgraded his sleigh to give him better single pilot resource management in his yearly trek across the world. My source had told me that Santa had grown tired of fighting through clouds and relying on his outdated TCAS system. Rumor has it, his weather radar was so old, it was certified by the CAA.

I wanted to see Santa’s new setup myself and be the first to give a review of his new sleigh. So, I camped out on the roof on Saturday night. Right about 2am, I was awakened by distant jingle bells and some rather loud snorting. I jumped out of my sleeping bag, almost forgetting that I was on a roof (that wouldn’t have been a pleasant start to Christmas), grabbed my note pad and hid behind the chimney.

He hit the other two houses on the cul-de-sac first, then made a somewhat bumpy landing on our roof. I guess he still hasn’t quite smoothed the landings out. I pulled out the cookies I had brought as insurance and approached the jolly, red clad icon. As he turned around, he was startled by me, but I held out the cookies in a non-menacing way. “Hey Mr. Claus! I heard you upgraded the avionics in the sleigh. I was wondering if I could have a look at it for my article this week.”

A big smile formed on his rosy, beard adorned face. “Why of course, son,” he replied. After a quick glance at his list, he looked up again. “You must be Hank. I’ve got a little something in this here bag for you. Tell you what. I’m going to go lighten my load a little bit and you have a look around. When I pop back up the chimney, I’ll be glad to answer any questions you have.” With that, he waddled over to the chimney and with great agility, hopped up in the air and down into the house.

With a shrug and a smile, I turned to gaze at the wonder of the SleighMobile 2100×11.

The Powerplant

Unfortunately, there isn’t much new to report about the engine. The sleigh still only has 8 horsepower (or reindeer power if you want to get technical). Rudolph and his nose weren’t needed this year.

The Cabin

Remember as a kid all the pictures of Santa’s sleigh with the open cockpit design? Well, Claus finally wised up and enclosed the cabin (more comfortable when traveling through the northern latitudes). It was a bubble canopy, vacuum sealed and pressurized. He even had an emergency oxygen tank tucked in a compartment in the back. True airspeed does increase with higher altitudes, so I guess he makes better time up high.

The seat was no longer a carriage seat that you see in the pictures. No, Santa’s flying in luxury with a BE Aerospace custom designed seat. It looked like he could open it up to use as a cot for a quick snooze between towns.

The reins to steer the reindeer were very uniquely worked in. They were tied in to a computer, which was rigged to a side-stick in the cabin. Even Santa is flying by wire these days.

The avionics were unparalleled. The instrument panel had a G2000 touch screen system, complete with synthetic vision. There was weather radar, an up to the second traffic alert system (I guess Santa needs it since he is the lone aircraft in the entire world who isn’t required to talk to ATC), and even XM satellite radio, tuned, appropriately, to the Christmas pops station. Apparently, even Santa needs a GFC 700 autopilot. There was also a heater and an air conditioner. I guess the tropics are still a little warm even at Christmas!

The Exterior

The SleighMobile 2100×11 is still red. The runners on the sleigh have been equipped with what appears to be a super sticky, non slip coating. Very useful on icy roofs. The defrost was still in full tilt and I could see tiny wiper blades peaking out the bottom of the windscreen. There was a strange piece of metal on the front of the sleigh that I couldn’t quite figure out what it was. An unidentified pipe protruded from the back of the sleigh.

Santa had the aviation style beacon on top of the canopy, in addition to his red and white position lights attached to the left and right sides, respectively. His strobes were on the back of the runners. Each reindeer also had a beacon strapped to the top of their antlers.

All in all, Santa had a pretty nice ride. When he popped back up the chimney, I queried him about the metal piece and the pipe. With a chuckle, he replied, “Those both have to do with waste. “The metal piece is a dung guard for when the reindeer need to go. I used to get it in the face back in the ‘30s before we came up with this. Goggles were all I had to protect my rosy cheeks.” As I looked closer, there were some brown and yellow stains on the metal, a clue a better reporter wouldn’t have missed!

With a chuckle, Santa continued on. “The pipe is connected to a hose in the cabin. I’ve got a hot chocolate and cappuccino maker in there and I’m not so young anymore. Those liquids move rather quickly through me. So, over oceans, lakes, or other uninhabited regions, the pipe takes care of the liquid!”

With that and a roar of laughter, he climbed back in his toasty cabin, gave his side-stick a push, and off he went, soaring into the cold, Christmas night. I was left with half a cookie and a story to tell.

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