It's not easy to get into the Air Force Academy, and once a cadet gets in there's an exclusive group almost all hope to be a part of: the falconry team. Though more than 4,000 undergraduates walk the grounds, there are only 12 cadets that have the title of falconer.
And junior cadet Kailia Baca is one of them.
"I have this brochure that I got - I was probably in middle school - about falconry at the Air Force Academy," Baca told 9NEWS. "So being able to watch that growing up and then being a part of it is very special."
Falconers flow the Academy's ten falcons at various public events, including sporting and civic events. The birds are trained and handled by cadet falconers to soar, dive and sometimes fly right over the heads of attendees.
Baca grew up in the Colorado Springs area and has always wanted to be a falconer.
"I knew about the birds, I've been to Air Force football games, I've seen the halftime shows, I've seen the falcons,” Baca continued. “I thought it was an amazing opportunity."
So, when she found out she made the team, she was excited, calling it the best feeling in the world. At least, until she met her bird: Apollo.
"He likes to pace back and forth and tuck his wings back like he's an old angry man or like some cartoon villain and it cracked me up, so I immediately liked him,” she said. "He's an extremely grumpy bird. I tend to be really nice, so we're like yin and yang."
Despite the personality differences, Apollo - the oldest and most experienced flyer of the academy’s ten falcons trust Baca.
“It’s really nerve-wracking when you have this gigantic bird of prey, your face very close to theirs, to take on and off their hood,” she said. “So, it’s a little intimidating but you get used to it as time goes on but in the beginning, yes, it is intimidating. When he [Apollo] would fly directly to me and would let me touch him, I knew that he really trusted me,"
Only four cadets are chosen for the program out of each class of about a thousand. They're taught how to work with the birds, prepare their food and keep them safe during events. It's a big time commitment but Baca said it’s worth it.
"It gives you family, it gives you these amazing birds you get to work with every day, you get to travel everywhere," she said. "We all have love for our own bird. A special kind of bond. You definitely develop a lot of affection for them."