Jingle all the Sleigh
It's the fastest mode of transport yet invented, capable of criss-crossing the globe in a single day and still able to carry millions of tons of cargo and land on rooftops everywhere. Ahead of another busy Christmas for its owner, William Scholes gets a closer look at the latest version of Santa's Sleigh - and a word with the great man himself
SHIMMERING under the moonlight of a clear star-pocked sky and sitting on a soft cushion of cotton wool-perfect snow, Santa’s Sleigh looks every bit as magical as you dared to imagine.
It’s early December, and I’m at a test facility at a secret location in the North Pole where the 2019 version of the Sleigh has been undergoing final trials ahead of Santa Claus’s Christmas present deliveries.
As the reindeers are led away for a debrief with their engineers, a crew of elves manoeuvre cranes to redistribute the enormous lead weights used to replicate the payload of toys that the Sleigh will be carrying to boys and girls everywhere next week.
It’s a punishing but essential schedule, says Santa, who is rightly proud of the research and development team he has assembled to perfect his quest to deliver parcels.
Much of what goes on at his North Pole HQ is top secret. Indeed, before I was even allowed to travel to the R&D facility I had to undergo a series of gruelling good behaviour assessments and sign several confidentiality agreements.
Still, Santa is in expansive mood when I finally get to meet him. Trials of the new Sleigh have been going well, and he is keen to talk about.
Previous Sleighs have had titanium bodywork draped over a mahogany frame, but for 2019 the decision has been made to go for an all-carbon fibre construction, though titanium remains the best material for the Sleigh’s runners because, says Santa, “they give the best bite in the snow”.
“Because it is so light, carbon fibre means the Sleigh can go even faster and be more agile,” says Santa.
Behind his jolly image, there’s an obvious seriousness and intensity to Santa.
“People probably think I’ve an easy job, and that I just work for a few weeks a year organising presents, loading the Sleigh and then delivering them,” he says, with surprising candour.
“What they don’t see is the endless work that goes into perfecting what I do.”
Like previous Sleighs, this latest evolution has no roof. It doesn’t even have doors.
Experiments with both have so far proved unsuccessful, says Santa, because it adds precious time to jumping in and out of the sleigh.
People think I’m fat and that I should probably go on a diet but the truth is that I have to wear an enormous anti-gravity suit because the Sleigh accelerates and brakes with such force
And if the Sleigh is about anything, it’s about speed.
Santa and his team won’t be drawn on what form of propulsion and braking the Sleigh uses to augment the reindeers’ power.
He does, however, let slip that the 2019 model has a new kinetic energy recovery system, much like those used on Formula 1 racers, to harvest the friction generated by the reindeers as they gallop through the night at scarcely believable speeds.
The reindeers are also key to providing the navigational expertise Santa needs to get to every rooftop and chimney at just the right time.
One thing about which Santa is keen to set the record straight is the reason for his bulging suit.
“People think I’m fat and that I should probably go on a diet but the truth is that I have to wear an enormous anti-gravity suit because the Sleigh accelerates and brakes with such force,” he insists a little unconvincingly as he tucks into another mince pie.
As he downs some more mince pies, several glasses of milk and a small glass of sherry, the reindeers return and the elves finish their work in the cargo bay; it’s time for the Sleigh to be put through its paces once again.
Santa squeezes into his anti-gravity suit, climbs into the cockpit and with a full-throttle “Yo ho ho” loud enough to drown out a 100-strong chorus of Brian Blesseds at maximum-bellow, he’s off.
In a flash, the gentle, almost ethereal, sound of sleigh bells is all that whispers in the polar silence. Will you hear them next week?
AT A GLANCE
Santa Claus’s Sleigh, 2019 edition
Price: If you have to ask, you can’t afford it
Engine and transmission: Reindeers, backed up by a kinetic energy recovery system and a top secret propulsion system, known only as the Trojan Horse Flux Capacitor.
Performance: Top speed 650 miles a second, equivalent to 3,000 times the speed of sound, though this drops dramatically for no apparent reason on Belfast's Westlink. Maximum delivery rate of 832 presents a second
Fuel consumption: 35 curried yogurts, 214,856 mince pies, 14 Stormont fudges and 11,000 gallons of milk per hour (EU combined cycle)
CO2, road tax and benefit in kind: As a not-for-profit organisation, Santa is exempt from all taxes apart from the plastic bag levy
Euro Ncap safety rating: Not yet tested, thanks to EU Special Measures (Santa Clause Clauses) Act 2019. It's unclear what effect Brexit will have on this next year