Archive for December, 2010

Flying Santa

Friday, December 24th, 2010

The flying Santa tradition began in 1929 when floatplane pilot Captain William Wincapaw wanted to show his appreciation for lighthouse keepers and their families along the isolated Maine coastline. He put together packages of books, magazines, candy, and toys and dropped them from his airplane to the families on Christmas Day. By 1933, Wincapaw began to dress as Santa and the Flying Santa program expanded to include 91 lighthouses throughout Maine, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut. In 1946, helicopters (an emerging technology) were added to the program.

Today, the New England tradition is kept alive by Friends of Flying Santa, Inc. Using helicopters they continue the flights bringing annual gifts of holiday cheer to the men, women and families of the United States Coast Guard. Thousands of hours are volunteered each year to ensure the success of over 33 stops including 45 Coast Guard units from Maine to New York. They have a website with more information,

The concept has become popular as every Christmas season throughout the United States Santa arrives by helicopter to hospitals, shopping centers and private events. Sometimes the helicopter is chartered and sometimes it is donated. I have seen Santa land in a Robinson R22, Sikorsky S76 and everything in between. Rite Aid drug stores is a major sponsor of the Children’s Miracle Network and when I worked there we delivered Santa to a large group of children in our corporate Bell 430 helicopter. It wasn’t the same as reindeer hoofs on the roof, but the kids were excited nevertheless.

I want to thank everyone for reading Hover Power and posting many insightful comments.

Happy Holidays!


Friday, December 10th, 2010

I learned to fly helicopters in the early 1980s. Back then I read a story about a helicopter pilot who rescued an airplane pilot who had crashed on the ice of Lake Erie. The helicopter pilot was flying along the shore of the lake in a Hughes 300C when he heard on the radio that the Coast Guard helicopter had turned back because of weather. He decided to head out over the lake and look for the downed pilot.

The traffic-reporting helicopter did not have any navigational radios so the pilot asked the Coast Guard for directional information. Ice had built up on the blades and airframe, and his skids contacted the water a few times when he lost depth perception because of fatigue. After several attempts, in total darkness, he found the pilot. After getting him onboard, he flew back and landed on the shoreline with less than five minutes of fuel remaining. The helicopter pilot was awarded the Avco/Aviation/Space Writers Association Heroism Award.

There is no doubt that his actions probably saved the downed pilot’s life. However, had he crashed while attempting this rescue would he have been viewed as an excessive risk-taker or a hero who tried despite the odds? I wonder in today’s environment of risk assessments and safety management systems if perceptions would have been different?