Dispatches From The North Pole: The Science of Santa’s Sleigh

12.06.2010 |

Santa's sleigh incorporates an array of advanced technologies. (Click for larger image).

Editor’s Note: This is the second in a series of occasional dispatches from Dr. Larry Silverberg, a researcher at NC State who is leading a visiting scholars program at Santa’s Workshop-North Pole Labs (NPL). Dr. Silverberg is an expert in unified field theory and is accompanied by four other mechanical and aerospace engineers: Drs. Mohammad Zikry (novel materials), Greg Buckner (medical robotics), Fred DeJarnette (space travel), and Herb Eckerlin (energy conservation).

Hello everyone! We’ve spent the past few days working with the “sleigh team” at NPL’s sleighport research facility. Santa is using technologies that we are not yet able to recreate in our own labs, and we’ve learned we have a long way to go to catch up with Santa in fields ranging from aerodynamics to materials science.

Santa’s sleigh is far more advanced than any modern form of air transportation. The truss of the sleigh, including the runners, are made of a honeycombed titanium alloy that is very lightweight and 10 to 20 times stronger than anything we’ve ever seen in a lab.

But there’s more to it than that. The truss can also morph, altering its shape slightly to improve its aerodynamics – allowing it to cut through the air more efficiently. The runners on the sleigh, for example, have some flexure. This allows them to tuck in to be more aerodynamic during flight, and then spread out to provide stability for landing on various surfaces – such as steeply pitched roofs.

The sleigh is also equipped with electronics that are beyond military-grade, including laser sensors that can detect upcoming thermals and wind conditions to find the optimal path. This makes the flight smoother and more energy efficient and, as all aerospace engineers know, efficiency is key.

The focus on efficiency and a smooth ride has also led to the development of  a nanostructured “skin” for the sleigh that is porous and contains its own low-pressure system, which holds the air flowing around the airborne sled onto the body, reducing drag by as much as 90 percent.

We’re still trying to wrap our brains around all this. No time to dawdle though – our team is meeting with the propulsion lab folks tomorrow. I’ll keep you posted!

Note: Previous dispatch, on the science of Santa’s list, is available here.



5 Responses to “Dispatches From The North Pole: The Science of Santa’s Sleigh”

  1. Matt Shipman says:

    We’ll have another post from Dr. Silverberg on Monday — so be sure to check back!

  2. Judy Chatelain says:

    Hello Professors and Students

    Our Orlando Sentinel Christmas edition had your santa’s sleigh research project findings. What a wonderful idea. This definitely makes you want to BELIEVE!

    HAPPY ADDITIONAL FINDINGS!
    Judy Chatelain

  3. I couldn’t find any info on the site regarding the sleigh’s MPR (miles per reindeer). Do you have an estimate?

  4. Matt Shipman says:

    Great question Philip! Given the nature of Santa’s journey (e.g., frequent stops, crossing house-to-house), it has been estimated that he travels approximately 75 million miles. Assuming that is the distance variable, and dividing it amongst the nine reindeer — Rudolph, Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donder and Blitzen — it works out to approximately 8,333,334 MPR. That’s better than anything currently found on fueleconomy.gov’s Extreme MPG site: http://www.fueleconomy.gov/feg/extremeMPG.jsp

    Incidentally, the reindeer do retire periodically, and their slots are filled by younger reindeer. However, the reindeer adopt the names of their predecessors. Tradition, you know.

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