After weeks of anticipation, Missoula’s “Santa Fly Over'' made its grand return to families in Frenchtown, Lolo, and everywhere in between.
The tradition, which requires a helicopter to haul a light display of Santa Claus about 300 feet off the ground, had taken a pause for 16 years. After a tough 2020, Missoula resident Lynn Lease thought it was time to bring the tradition back, hoping it would generate a little Christmas magic at a time when there doesn't seem to be a lot going around.
And watching Santa soar through the sky certainly did feel like magic as he took flight Saturday night, but it was an event that required weeks of labor and planning.
“We took him up to my shop in Arlee after we got some structural welding done, replaced every single light that was on there, we've dropped probably 500 pounds worth of lights and wiring. We replaced the structures that they used for generators and we switched to an AGM battery,” said volunteer Steven Goodsell, rattling off just some of their Santa Fly Over duties.
When all the prep work finally came to completion, Santa was attached to a helicopter and placed in the hangar at Minuteman Aviation in Missoula.
By the time the structure had finally been fixed up to flight standards, thousands of community members had come together on Facebook, anxiously waiting to see him fly, and sharing stories of their own memories of the tradition from years ago.
“I've had a lot of fun doing it,” said co-organizer Brian Lease. “It's been a lot of work. My feet hurt, my arms hurt, and it’s been a lot of work to get him to go, but it’s paying off huge...and it will pay off for the whole community and especially the kids.”
“Brian I both went to work early, we were coming off eight hours of our normal work, then working another six to seven hours every night for the last week and a half, just to get it good enough to fly this year,” said Goodsell.
Volunteers will tell you that the labor, the backaches and the planning were well worth the joy Santa brought to the Missoula Valley Saturday night.
“2020 has been rough,” said Goodsell. “it's been rough for everybody, so we're doing what we can to bring a little joy and cheer back into people's lives, and that's what we're going for right now. If we get a bunch of smiles….that’s it right there. We’ve won.”