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Fri Dec 28, 2012, 10:18 AM

USAF Museum Aircraft of the Week

The Santa Claus sleigh was the first known aircraft to utilize multiple hoofed animals to propel itself through the air. This sleigh was designed, built and flown by pioneer aviator and generous elf, Mr. Santa Claus of Peoria, Illinois, who had a life long wish to deliver gifts to all the children in the world. The pre-production aircraft flew several successful flights in 1903 until the tenth mission when the sleigh stalled and crashed, sending the rotund pilot into a pile of hay. The propulsion units (62 very perturbed French hens) escaped injury. Post flight analysis indicated the vehicle was underpowered and a search for an alternate form of propulsion was begun.

Santa also began to look for a larger area where he could perform his flight tests safely. He found an ideal area in North Carolina, only to learn it was already being used by two brothers from Ohio. Undaunted, Santa turned to the snow covered expanse at the North Pole. Once settled in, Santa met eight friendly flying reindeer at the local coffee shop. Interested in obtaining meaningful employment (their skywriting company had just gone bankrupt), the reindeer volunteered as propulsion units for the upcoming flight tests.

Flights with the reindeer at the North Pole were satisfactory but the sleigh still proved to be somewhat underpowered, especially when loaded with a bag full of toys. One Christmas Eve an improved model, the S.C. Sleigh Mk II, was developed with the addition of one more flying reindeer who by chance, also had a very shiny nose. The new reindeer gave the sleigh all-weather capability in addition to improved flight performance, allowing delivery of toys even during foggy Christmas Eves.

Santa Claus's sleigh remains in service and flies one mission each year on Christmas Eve. Santa has promised to donate the sleigh to the museum after the Mk III version (essentially a Mk II with anti-skid skids) has completed its flight tests.

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