Watch Santa's Christmas Eve Flight with NORAD

On Christmas Eve every year, NORAD tracks a small red dot around the world -- Rudolph's nose! You can follow along on your computer or phone starting at 2 a.m. MTN on December 24 when Santa and his reindeer take off, and track their flight path across the world.

Watch the video of his 2009 flight past the Eiffel Tower, Taj Mahal, the Kremlin, the Great Wall of China, the Sydney Opera House, NASA headquarters, the Egyptian pyramids, the Empire State Building and more. He even flies through the Parthenon, the Golden Gate Bridge and the Arch in St. Louis. Amazing!!! Watch him do this! This is a fun video to share with your kids and grandkids.

The NORAD Tracks Santa YouTube Channel has many videos explaining how they track Santa, of interest to anyone in the aviation community. So he can visit billions of homes in one day, Santa is actually the fastest flying thing on Earth. How he does it, no one knows. He keeps the technology to himself and no one wants to be the first to try to get the secrets from him. That would be very bad PR. The money Santa would have to spend to defend himself would mean no presents for many children. Imagine that happening! So some secrets, we are willing to accept. Anyway, tracking him at his speed is quite a challenge. NORAD watches for the additional point the satellites track on this one day of the year:

Canada's NORAD deploys CF-18 fighters as soon as Santa reports that he's taking off:

Canada's NORAD reports that Santa's reindeer are very excited to see the CF-18 fighter jets. Here's a pic snapped by a CF-18 pilot:

See Rudolph's nose! That's how the satellites can track Santa. Rudolph's nose has been that way for about 200 years, long before satellites. Cool how that worked out, huh?

Find everything you need to watch Santa at the NORAD Tracks Santa website. You can even follow Santa on Google Earth. And if it's not cool to be watching a computer all night when family is around on Christmas Eve, you can sneak some peeks on your phone -- yes, we can now watch Santa's flight on smartphones. On December 24, just open Google Maps for mobile, search "Santa" and you'll see where he is. You can also follow his flight path on Twitter. You'll be able to show your kids and grandkids how close Santa is getting. Because Santa won't come until after they go to bed. And remember to leave some hot cocoa and cookies for Santa, and carrots for the reindeer as that is the fuel for their fast flight. We heard carrots are his reindeer's favorite food. Find out here how Santa's reindeer might have acquired their flying abilities.

Santa Claus, Indiana

This is a perfect week to call a winter destination to your attention: Santa Claus, Indiana. It's in southern Indiana, west of Louisville, Kentucky. Huntingburg Airport (HNB) is the closest, and it's 246 nm from 3CK.

Here's what you'll find in Santa Claus, Indiana (as if you aren't guessing already):
Visit the only post office in the world named after Santa Claus. If you decide you want to stay permanently, talk to the folks at HO HO HOldings. Maybe a place on Christmas Lake Golf Course would interest you.

If you haven't had enough of Santa Claus and Christmas yet, here are some photos:

The Santa Claus Christmas Store:

Frosty's Fun Center:

Finally, get mouth-watering sugary confections at Santa's Candy Castle:

You can get to this home of Christmas spirit in 1:41 in the Arrow from 3CK per the AOPA Flight Planner (we hope we don't get sued by "FlightThreat").

To Troy KVLL for Thanksgiving

Instead of a 6-hour drive, we chose to fly to Troy, Michigan -- KVLL -- to visit family for Thanksgiving.

We load our precious cargo, "Fly Boy" Chaai. The poor guy, we probably took advantage of his very kind mellow personality. He clearly did not enjoy the flight much, but he's too nice to complain about it.

It was not the most beautiful sky as we headed out, but the sight of Chicago so close from the air is always appreciated to see.

Imagine all the holiday shoppers down there on Michigan Avenue. Is anyone turning their eye to the sky and spotting us?

Check it out, the Sears Tower above the wingtip! Yeah we know what it's supposed to be called now, but it will always be the Sears Tower to us.

As we headed south past Gary, the windshield started picking up ice, which led to Parth's post about how this happened.

Our passenger wondered, when is this gonna be over already?!? Sorry buddy, we're facing a strong headwind, and it's a bit slow-going. Gonna be awhile.

So here's what you'll see as you come up on Southfield, Michigan and I-696. KVLL is only a few minutes beyond this.

OK, we intended to show you video of approaching and landing at KVLL, but Deb thought the video OFF button was the ON button ... so, no video. The runway is in a heavily built-up and populated area, tucked behind a Wal-Mart and across from a large shopping center. With the 496 guiding you there, you'll easily see it a few miles north of I-696.

One passenger was very relieved that we found the runway.

"Are we there yet?!? Can I have some turkey now?"

Fly Boy

Chaai modeling his Mutt Muffs before the flight to KVLL for Thanksgiving. Believe it or not, he kept them on the whole flight.

Clear Air Ice

Below freezing temperature + moisture = ice. I re-learned this basic lesson on a “VFR” flight last week to visit family for Thanksgiving to Oakland/Troy (KVLL).

Departed 3CK east to the lakeshore, level at 1700 feet, then turned south along VFR corridor. Head winds of about 45 knots put my ground speed at a painful 95 knots. The Hancock and Willis towers took a long time coming ... then we contacted KGYY tower requesting transition.

Clearing Gary, as I followed the shore about a mile off the coast and turned southeast, I noticed it became harder to see outside. Getting into scud? Then I noticed that it was actually ice frosting over on the windshield. In a matter of minutes the windshield became fully obscured. And I saw the wings were picking up ice too.

Because we don't have the option to scrape it away ...

I know you are trained to make a 180 and get out of IFR conditions. But it wasn't really IFR! The XM Weather display on the Garmin 496 did not indicate any precipitation over our location. At this point I was clear of KGYY airspace and listening to South Bend ATIS. I hit their approach frequency on the Garmin 430, and after identifying us, stated we were picking up light rime ice in clear air. KSBN approach provided vectors to runway 11 for a possible precautionary landing.

To my left was the soup of Lake Michigan, the front was fully obscured and I only had to navigate by seeing to the right. Thankfully there was land. Can you imagine if we had been flying straight ahead, we would have had an IFR experience in VFR conditions?

About this time I turned on defrost to full blast. It quickly punched a hole about 4-5 diameter width, and now I could see a little out the windshield. As we headed over to the land, the de-icing accelerated. Soon it was clear off both wings and the windshield. We cancelled our approach to South Bend, and resumed our flight to KVLL.

Looking back, I wondered what could have caused this. Then my non-pilot wife pointed out "you were flying too close above those smoke stacks". I was? All those chimneys had been putting out a lot of heated moisture collectively in that area. At our altitude, the OAT read 28 degrees F. Well, that's below freezing. That explains it. As we left that area, there was no more heated air rising and turning to ice.

Lessons: Pay attention to OAT at all times, particularly in the winter. Keep an eye out for conditions that could conspire to cause low visibility, then distinguish what could be causing that -- scud or frosting over? As always, don't be afraid to state your situation and ask for help with ATC.

Following the book and making a 180 could have made it worse, as we would continue to fly in those conditions for a lot longer. Exercise caution and prepare to land as quickly as possible. After all, a frosted windshield is better to look at from the outside.

The Wonderful and Weird of Austin

The Arrow won't likely be flying to Austin, but because you can obviously fly here commercial, we'd figure we'd share the wonderful and weird of Austin ("Keep Austin Weird" is the city's slogan, you know) especially during Halloween and Dia de los Muertos.

First stop: Max's Wine Dive near the Convention Center, during happy hour. It's not spooky here other than a dark atmosphere. And it may be called a "dive" but the wine prices are not dive-level. We chose a viognier (a white) and a malbec (a red), and several appetizers. Our cheese platter had a range of flavors from light to strong, and we played around with combos of which wine tasted best with which cheese. One lesson: don't drink a malbec with strong blue cheese. But the viognier which is a lighter wine, is fine with stronger cheese.

We left after dark, but well before the witching hour. Time to hit the 6th Street Halloween celebrations. We were among the older ones there -- you could definitely tell who was in the area for a conference -- but we still had fun people- and costume-watching:

Super heros:

This zombie appeared to be hungry. Deb kept it at bay with her iPhone then got away quickly:

These "Chilean miners" were unusually patient with people taking photos. It seemed like all they were doing was getting their pictures taken.

Then Deb noticed on the back of the cage, there's a Chili's logo! Indeed one of the miners came around to the back of the cage and started hamming it up there too:

Well hey, these guys are smart. They're on 6th St, they're having Halloween fun AND they're getting paid for it too!

When we left around 10, the streets were full and getting fuller, and the party was just getting started. It was a blur of people, cameras, lights, action:

Here's a Feature Film about the creativity mayhem of 6th Street on Halloween. It runs for about an hour and a half.
Having escaped the zombies and the vampires and the stomache-killing giggles from all the R-rated costumes on people who really shouldn't be wearing them, we lived to see another day ...

We got breakfast in the South Congress area and Deb got the Demon Brains special, our table number was 13 and our coffee mug had a demon on it!!! Ooooooooooooh, spoooooooooooooky. What a way to start Halloween Day! Here's what Demon Brains look like:

Looks suspiciously like omelette, cilantro, mushroom and feta to us. Tasted like it too. It definitely did NOT taste like chicken. And we have no idea what demon brains taste like. Hope we never do, either.

Then we walked the South Congress shops and found plenty of Day of the Dead inspiration:

There's no shortage of tattoo parlors here. With enough margaritas, would we get up the courage to get a skull tattoo? Ummmmmmm, no. No danger of that happening.

Much spookiness here including Ghost Tours of Austin and the House of Torment.

Now, Austin has some interesting sights that might not be on all tourist maps. With some extra research help like the blog 365 Things to Do in Austin, Texas, we learned about the Cathedral of Junk. It's surprisingly in a quiet neighborhood in a backyard.

It all started in 1988 with a few hubcaps on a fence. And now it has become this. The architectural choices the builder made are actually pretty good. The flourish at the top of this tower remind us of monuments we've seen in India:

Do you ever wonder where all the free AOL minutes go? You can find some here!

We headed back downtown for a late lunch at Cantina Laredo. It was excellent. Smooth margarita made with all fresh ingredients, two kinds of salsa just whipped up, chips still sizzling from the oven, guacamole made fresh at the table (!), and a very flavorful cheese enchilada that was so much more than your plain ol' cheese enchilada. Unless you're able to eat it now to experience it, words just can't convey the goodness. Trust us, this place is worth a stop.

From this:

To this, at your table:

The best margarita glasses, empty ones!

That's it for now, for the wonderfulness and wierdness of Austin.

(If you want better quality photos, don't complain to us, complain to Apple!)

Perfect 10 Flying to Door County on 10-10-10!

We awoke on Sunday to sunny blue skies for a fall color tour to Door County. Destination: 3D2, Ephraim-Gibraltar Airport and the town of Fish Creek. From our house it's a 4 1/2 hour drive to Fish Creek, but jump in the Arrow and zipadeedoodah, we're there in 1 hour, 20 minutes! It makes a daytrip possible. Or, gives you a lot more night-on-the-town time for a two-day trip.

Our "perfect 10" flight nearly became an 8 or worst-case, a 5 if we had to divert and wait out some weather, due to IFR conditions created by "mist" that was mysteriously only over Door County. Flying over it, it looked like cloudy cellulite, and about as unwelcome as cellulite too, as we can only fly VFR.

But as we passed overhead, the mist broke up and we saw glorious fall color on Door County trees:

And we saw clear as day, the 3D2 runway. Whew.

Because Fish Creek is only a 15-minute ride away by bike, we hopped on Trek Lime bikes donated by area businesses for airport visitors (thank you!!), and pedaled away. It was a cool breezy morning and the ride to Fish Creek is slightly downhill. Easy. Biking is a great way to go. We noticed old log cabins and the fall trees up-close during the ride.

We popped in at Julie's for breakfast. They serve breakfast all day. A bit of a wait, a popular place. We snagged outdoor seats for a morning meal underneath a yellow elm tree, outside in mid-October! Fabulous day!

Next to Julie's is the entrance to Peninsula State Park and its miles of biking and hiking trails. We continued the outdoorsy day by biking along the trails all the way to the Eagle Bluff Lighthouse, a very charming lighthouse built in 1868. Some sights along the way:

Back in town, we parked the bikes to walk awhile. Everything in Fish Creek looks so perfect, even the bikes have a pretty place to sit:

We've visited Fish Creek before when we stopped in many shops like Founders Square area, where buildings are from the 1800s. During this trip, we had fun browsing affordable jewelry set with an array of polished stones, and ammonites from Madagascar in Stone Cutter, a shop in an old log cabin. We picked up some goodies small enough to carry back on a bike.

Oooooooooooooooooooo, spoooooooooky:

After all this biking, walking and shopping, we were hungry. We decided to go crazy at Wild Tomato restaurant and eat cheese curds, with fond memories of cheese curds when we lived in Minnesota. Nasty for you, but good. At Wild Tomato they spin your pizza dough:

And fire it over wood:

We got the veggie pizza with wood-fired red and green peppers, onions, mushrooms, artichoke hearts, sun dried tomatoes, pesto and Wisconsin goat cheese. At most pizza places this combo turns into a mushy mess, but not at Wild Tomato. Every veggie was cooked but still crisp and had the freshest flavor. They're fresh because they're local. It really does make a difference. We haven't had a pizza this good since ... really can't remember, and we eat a lot of pizza. Yum!!

Although we didn't get to Gibraltar Grill during this trip, we must mention it as we've had good meals there during previous trip and it's very pilot-friendly. If you fly in, Gibraltar Grill may give you ground transportation to its location. And dogs are welcome on the patio!

Here are all the Friends of Ephraim-Gibraltar Airport -- try to visit them when you're in town.

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