Why won’t the Army won’t let Santa fly on its helicopters: An investigation

Pentagon officals say the rules' "original intent is lost to the ghosts of Christmas Past."
Patty Nieberg Avatar
An Army regulation says the service cannot transport Santa using Army aviation assets. Image created by Task & Purpose using Dall-E.

Santa won’t be riding in a Black Hawk this year, or any year, thanks to an under-the-radar Army regulation. 

A small note buried in Army Regulation 360-1, “The Army Public Affairs Program,” which lays out the rules for the service’s media teams, seems to have something against Christmas time’s jolly old soul.

“Army aviation assets are not to be used to transport persons costumed as Santa Claus,” the regulation says. 

Oddly specific? It gets better. 

The reg also outlaws passengers who are “Easter Bunnies, witches, or any other holiday-related character whether the person is military or civilian on or off a military installation.”

According to Army officials, Santa has been on the service’s No-Fly list for over two decades. An Army official told Task & Purpose that the regulation’s “original intent is lost to the ghosts of Christmas Past,” noting that it was added as an update nearly a quarter century ago.

“In our research, some have suggested that the regulation was put in place as a matter of propriety or possibly safety,” said Bryce Dubee, spokesperson for the Army. “However over the years on special occasions, hard-working Army elves have been granted exceptions to the policy to allow for Kris Kringle to join them in support of holiday missions such as Operation Toy Drop and Operation Santa Claus.”

Subscribe to Task & Purpose today. Get the latest military news and culture in your inbox daily.

The regulation has been around long enough that Reddit has posts of soldiers figuring out how to get around it. One soldier at Fort Hood recalled a holiday party in the base’s hanger. With the holiday crowd inside and the doors to the hanger closed, a UH-1 loudly landed just outside. St. Nick was waiting nearby. 

“Santa got on the aircraft and the hanger doors were opened for the big reveal. Santa coming off the Huey with the blades turning as if he just landed. The kids believed it because they were gullible,” he said. “No Santas were transported in the celebration of this holiday.”

A 2001 article quoted the Army Safety Center’s Lt. Col. Cindy Henry very Army Safety Center-view of concern about the optics for children if a helicopter went down with Santa on board.

“Certainly we wouldn’t want to traumatize a group of schoolchildren because Santa Claus was on an aircraft that crashes,” she said. “The reality is, we do have accidents.”

santa military army helicopter
Pentagon-released photos of Santa flying on helicopters from (clockwise from top left) Coast Guard Air Station Atlantic City, Marine Light Attack Helicopter Training Squadron 303, Navy Helicopter Anti-Submarine Squadron 10, and the Air Force’s 56th Rescue Squadron. DOD photos.

Fair enough. But the other services do not appear to limit Santa’s airborne escapades. 

“There is no regulation that prohibits Santa Claus from flying on U.S. Air Force aircraft,” an Air Force spokesperson told Task & Purpose.

The Navy, Marines, and Coast Guard also appear to regularly host Santa aboard their aviation assets, according to a Pentagon photo archive.
The Pentagon maintains that Santa will get “wherever he needs to go, safely and securely,” spokesperson Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder said last week. He urged families to watch Santa’s Christmas journey through the North American Aerospace Defense Command’s tracker.

The latest on Task & Purpose