Falconry at the United States Air Force Academy

The Story of the Cadets' Unique Performing Mascot


In 1955 the first class of cadets at the Air Force Academy chose the falcon to be their mascot. This book tells the story of the Academy’s program for the care and training of these birds. It shows how the falconry program serves as a leadership laboratory for cadets. Written by Lt. Gen. A. P. Clark and sponsored by The Friends and the Academy’s Association of Graduates, the book was published in 2003 by Fulcrum Publishing.



Lt General Hubert R. Harmon, the first Superintendent, was thrilled with the choice of the falcon, and it was my privilege and honor to assist the Academy for several years in their falcon mascot project. We went all over the globe bringing home specimens that were used by the Cadet Wing for display as well as for mascots. Assisting the Air Force Academy gave this old Navy man a unique opportunity. I was afforded excellent cooperation by both the academic staff and the student body. Their approach to the many problems encountered in the care and management of a team of avian fighters that would show their abilities at halftime during football games throughout the United States was a credit to the Academy. (From the Forward)

Dr. Harold M. Webster, LCdr, USNR (Ret.)

The Ancient Sport of Falconry

Flying to the Lure. At one time or another during the millennia that this sport has been practiced, falcons have also been trained to pursue an artificial lure as an exercise to prepare them to hunt wild quarry. Flying the falcon in this way very closely simulates the flight pattern the bird would make if it were actually hunting.

Cadets at the Air Force Academy have trained their birds to fly to the lure even when released to fly free over large, noisy stadium crowds. (Pages1-2)

Choosing a Mascot

Early Proposals. Even before the first class was admitted, there was interest at the new Air force Academy in adopting an appropriate mascot. In October 1954, Air Force Capt. Donald R. Gavin, in a letter to the Academy’s first superintendent, Lt. Gen. Huber R. Harmon, proposed the falcon. In a radio address the following month, Brig. Gen Woodbury Burgess, then Director of Intelligence, Air Defense Command, also recommended the falcon. A few months later Col. Russell L. Meredith, USAF (Ret.), a graduate of West Point, Class of 1917, a pioneer Army aviator and respected as the “Father of American Falconry” and President of the Falconry Club of America, also suggested to his friend General Harmon that the falcon be adopted as the Academy’s mascot. As a result of these suggestions and correspondence with the Secretary of the Air Force, the Academy’s Chief of Staff requested that the Commandant of Cadets study the matter and make recommendations concerning the selection of a mascot. (Page 9)

The Academy Acquires It’s Falcons

When the members of the Cadet Wing selected the falcon as their mascot in September 1955, the Academy possessed no birds. The first were acquired through donations from enthusiasts of the sport of falconry and from others who also had an interest in seeing the Academy program succeed…

Dr. Webster also arranged for the capture of a tundra peregrine falcon on Assateague Island, Maryland, by William Turner of Washington, D.D. At the suggestion of Cadet Richard B. Goetze, the bird was named Mach 1 (the technical term for the speed of sound). Mach 1 was trained and first flown to the lure by Cadet Frederick E. Frey. While participating in the filming of Wings of Tomorrow in 1956, Mach 1 was lost. She was found dead west of Littleton, Colorado in 1960, having managed to survive four years in the wild. (Page 13)

Organization of the Falconry Program

Initial Organization. The falconry program was initially organized as an athletic squad supervised by the Director of Athletics and oriented toward providing displays of the falcons in connection with athletic events. On March 11, 1957, Capt. Harrison H. D. Heiberg, Jr., the first OIC of the falconry program, established an official status for the volunteer “cadet falcon handlers” as they had come to be called. The Air Force Academy Athletic Association had assumed nominal ownership of the falcons in order to provide insurance coverage and had agreed to provide the financial support necessary for their maintenance. The cadet falcon handlers had up to this time not enjoyed athletic status except on days of athletic events. Captain Heiberg recommended that these cadets be reassigned from the Department of Athletics and be organized as an official cadet activity under the Commandant of Cadets. (Page 37)

Falcon Handler Training

The falconry program is an extremely time-consuming activity. The OIC averages about 100 hours per month working directly in support of the mascot program, and the cadets, already tightly scheduled, also contribute a tremendous amount of time to this year-round activity. In fact the falconry program demands as much time as would be required to participate in a varsity sport. During the academic year, just as in collegiate athletic programs, cadet falconers are “on-season” for two of three seasons–fall, winter, and spring. In all three summer periods cadet falconers spend time training falcons to perform during the coming year. (Page 41)

Public Affairs

Through the falconry program’s exhibits and flight demonstrations of the Academy mascot, the American people have been given an important opportunity to see a highly visible and interesting aspect of the life of the Academy. The Falconry Club is one of the Academy’s official performing units and its members are active in the Academy’s Speakers Bureau as well as handling many tours and presentations at the mews where the birds are kept. The cadet falconers are very effective representatives wherever they appear with their falcons. In 1999 the falconry program won the Air Force-wide public affairs excellence award. (Page 55)