Flying Santa

December 24, 2010 by Tim McAdams

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!

  • Dale Long

    Wonderful tradition. Thanks for sharing.
    If Santa lands on the LZ at the hospital where
    I’m working tonight, it will be in a few inches of
    snow. It’s really coming down here in Southern IL.

    Merry Christmas! Mele Kalikimaka!

  • Avi Weiss


    I think its almost a rite of passage for any helicopter charter operation to have at least one “flying Santa” request during their tenure. When I ran one back in the late 80s for a few years, we probably did 2 or 3 of them, and of course the kids loved it. We’d get some requests as to whether we could attach reindeer to the nose and nonesuch, but they were always happy to see Santa pop out of the copter with gifts.

    Thanks for providing excellent coverage to the AOPA helicopter community throughout the year. I realize we are a very small faction, and couldn’t hope to get a specialty section ala “turbine” in PILOT magazine, but it would be nice to see coverage grow from incidental mentions and occasional reprints from your blog, to something a bit more comprehensive without having to read all the copter-specific trade magazines.

    Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

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