A falcon soars over the heads of people in the crowd. It climbs high into the sky, then takes a dive. During this dive, called a stoop, the falcon can reach speeds of 220 mph. Suddenly, it swoops down to land gracefully on the arm of its handler.
Air Force Mascot
Falcons are specially trained birds that fly over the crowds at Air Force Academy football games. The cadets that train the birds are members of the Falconry Club. The falcons are the Air Force team mascots. Their job is to warm up the crowd at the games. When fans see the falcons fly into the stadium, they whoop it up and cheer.
The Air Force Academy is a school where future members of the Air Force are trained. In 1955, students at the Academy chose the falcon for their mascot because it can fly at high speeds. All Air Force Academy varsity sports teams are called the "Falcons" to honor their speedy mascot.
Falcons in the Hood
Some of the falcons trained by the Air Force cadets are born and raised at the Academy. Even so, the falcons are basically wild birds who follow their instincts. For example, sometimes during games, falcons will chase pigeons in the stands instead of performing their soaring tricks.
It’s not easy to train falcons. They are nervous birds. The Air Force cadets are trained to keep a falcon calm by putting a leather helmet, or hood, on the bird’s head. The hood covers the falcon’s eyes to keep the bird from being distracted and to make it feel safe.
The Air Force cadets and their high-flying mascots form a bond of friendship. The cadets and birds spend a lot of time training together, sometimes 8 to 10 hours a day. The Falconry Club and the birds also travel together to all the Air Force sporting events.
"They go with us on airplanes, too," said Rochelle Ng-A-Qui, another cadet in the Falconry Club. "The falcon sits on my left hand, and I eat with my right hand."
Helping the Air Force
Falcons have other talents. When they retire from the Air Force Academy, they are sent to military bases. Their job is to keep other birds from getting stuck in the wings and engines of airplanes by scaring them away.
You can be a falcon expert. Visit the Website of the Raptor Center of University of Minnesota at www.raptor.cvm.umn.edu/
Scholastic News, Senior Edition, 11/3/97