Turlock resident Edward Coogan is as experienced as navigators come, and the decorated Air Force veteran is set to make sure Christmas Eve goes off without a hitch this year.
Coogan is on standby alert to guide Santa Claus from the North Pole this Friday night in case of foggy weather, and if Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer isn’t up to the task. At 90 years old, Coogan has a lifetime of qualifications which make him the perfect man for the job.
During his time in the Air Force, Coogan held its highest aircraft navigator rating, Master Navigator, and logged 7,600 flying hours navigating aircraft — hundreds of which included navigating above the Arctic Circle. According to Coogan, navigating above the Arctic Circle requires a special set of navigation skills.
“Compasses don’t work above 70 degrees north latitude, so steering has to be done with celestial navigation,” Coogan said. “It was exciting to be able to do that for many years.”
In May 1955, Coogan navigated an Air Force KC-97 aircraft south from the Thule Air Base in northwest Greenland down to the Magnetic North Pole in northern Canada. After the plane flew over the Magnetic North Pole, he navigated the plane over the Geographic North Pole and then back to land at Thule Air Base.
So in just one day, using celestial navigation, Coogan navigated over both North Poles, surely qualifying him to guide Santa in even the most difficult conditions.
“There aren’t very many people around here who have experience doing that,” Coogan said.
If that wasn’t enough, Coogan also flew 116 combat missions in the AC-130 Gunship during the Vietnam War, and his combat decorations include 10 Air Medals, three Distinguished Flying Crosses and the Silver Star — the third-highest military combat decoration that can be awarded to an Air Force member.
Santa can rest assured that Coogan is able to handle even the most-difficult situations in the air. Should the stars not be visible on Friday, he has another method of navigation known as “Dead Reckoning.” He added that serving as a back-up navigator for Santa has brought plenty of joy to his great grandchildren.
“I really just have a sort of built-in compass in my head,” Coogan said. “Santa can relax, because he’s in good hands and I can get him where he needs to go safely.”