General Robert L. Cardenas
General Robert L. “Bob” Cardenas, USAF (retired)Test
Pilot, Combat Leader in both Bombers and Fighters as well as
Commander of the Air Force Special Operations Force. He has
flown over 60 different aircraft in his career.
General Cardenas began his military career as a Private in the
Army Cost Artillery, then became a pilot as a Cadet in the Army
Air Corps. He was commissioned a 2nd Lt. in July 1941 and in
1942 was sent to 29 Palms, CA to establish an Army Air Corps
In 1944 he flew combat missions in B-24 Liberators in the skies
over Germany, He was shot
down on his 20th mission but was not captured. He escaped into
Switzerland and then into France prior to D Day. He was later
flown out back to England and to a rehabilitation center in
the US. He became a test pilot after his graduation in 1945
from the Flight Performance School at Vandalia, Ohio.
He participated in the flight test evaluation of the German
jet fighter ME-262 and the Arado 234 bomber. In 1947 Cardenas
was a key member of the X-1 supersonic project.
Major Cardenas was the Officer In Charge Of Operations and command pilot of the B-29 that launched Captain Charles Yeager into the realm of supersonic flight.
In 1948, he was assigned as Officer in charge of Flight Test
Division projects at Muroc AB and as Chief Air Force test pilot
on the YB-49 flying wing project. After completion of the Performance
Phase II tests he checked out Captain Glen Edwards in the YB-49
on May 20 & 21st. He then received orders to USC for completion
of his Aeronautical Engineering degree. He was ordered back
15 days later, after the crash of the YB-49 and loss of the
crew, in order to complete the Stability & Control Phase
in the remaining YB-49 aircraft.
In November 1948 he gave a final briefing to a Board of General
Officers at Patterson AFB on the results of the test program.
In January 1949 he was ordered to fly the YB-49 from Muroc AB
to Andrews AFB in Washington
for President Truman’s Air Show. The transcontinental
non-stop flight set a record time of 4 hours and 5 minutes.
During the Korean War, Cardenas was at Wright Field and Edwards
AFB testing new jet fighters and bombers. He was then Commander
of the 51st Fighter Interceptor Wing at Naha AB on Okinawa after
completion of Air War College. On his return to the States he
was assigned to the Pentagon as Chief of the Aircraft and Missiles
From the Pentagon, he was assigned as Chief of the Special Operations
Division at US Strike Command Headquarters in Tampa, Florida.
In 1962 he led a joint Army & Air Force Special Force into
the Kashmir, India for the purpose of evaluating and improving
high altitude resupply drops in the Himalayan Mountains. He
used these techniques to equip forces and prevented an incursion
of Chinese through the Himalayas linking into East Pakistan.
He was then sent back to Okinawa as Commander of the 18th Tactical
Fighter Wing at Kadena AFB. After the Gulf of Tonkin crisis
he flew F-105 combat missions from Korat, Thailand over North
Vietnam. He returned to the US to command the 835th Air Division
at McConnell AFB, training F-105 crews for combat in Vietnam.
He was promoted to Brigadier General in 1968 and placed in Command
of the Air Force Special Operations
Force at Eglin & Hurlburt AFB, Florida. On October 12, 2002
his contributions to the development of Special Forces was recognized
by induction into the Air Commando Hall of Fame.
He went on to be assigned in Europe as Vice Commander of the
16th Air Force in Spain. It was there that he had the dubious
honor of negotiating with Muammar Gadhafi the withdrawal of
US forces from Wheelus AFB in Libya.
As the US Deputy to Live Oak in Belgium his responsibility to
SACEUR was to maintain open corridors to Berlin by calling the
Soviets bluff to block travel to Berlin by land, air or rail.
Prior to his retirement in June 1973, General Cardenas served
as the Chief of the JL Division of the Joint Strategic Target
Planning Staff (JSTPS) where he was responsible for the development
of the Joint Stategic Target List of the US nuclear War Plan
Cardenas has been honored by the Distinguished Service Medal,
Legion of Merit with Oak Leaf Cluster, Distinguished Flying
Cross, Purple Heart, Meritorious Service Medal, Air Medal with
four Oak Leaf Clusters, Joint Service Commendation Medal, Air
Force Commendation Medal with Oak Leaf Cluster and the Presidential
Citation. Foreign decorations include the Spanish Grand Legion
of Aeronautical Merit with Sash & Dagger.
1973 until 1983, Cardenas worked as an Executive in private
industry. In 1983 he was appointed to the White House as the
California coordinator for President Reagan’s Southwest
Boarder Economic Action Group. He resigned in 1985 and accepted
an appointment by Governor Dukemejian as Chairman of the Juvenile
Justice and Delinquency Prevention Advisory Group as well as
a member of the California Council of Criminal Justice.
In 1987 the Governor appointed the General to the California
Veterans Board where he was later elected to be Chairman of
the Board that is the policymaking body for the California Department
of Veterans Affairs. He left in 1993 to serve as Chairman of
the San Diego United Veterans Council and as a Director on the
Board of the Veterans Memorial Center & Museum.
On April 15, 1993 the University of New Mexico, College of Engineering,
honored him for his outstanding Professional contributions and
leadership. The USAF Test Pilot School at Edwards AFB honored
the General on December 10, 1994 as a “Distinguished Alumnus”
and on September 1995 he was inducted into the “Aerospace
Walk of Honor” at Lancaster, California.
The Sigma Chi fraternity awarded him the “Significant
Sig” medal during their 1995 National Convention in Albuquerque,
New Mexico. Currently he serves as a member of the
San Diego Mayor’s Veteran Advisory Board, Chairman of
the Veterans Memorial Museum & Center as well as a Trustee
of the Flight Test Historical Foundation at Edwards AFB.
Gen. Cardenas reports when he received Sigma Chi's award, it
was significant to him as this is a prestigious and long time
standing institution; as they celebrated their 150th anniversary
in June 2005. The ceremony was held near it's birthplace, in
To celebrate this milestone of 150 years of existence, they
selected 150 members of Sigma Chi to be members of the Significant
Sigma Chi Hall of Fame". He says he was extremely humbled
to have been selected, and more so when he saw who the other
He was recently appointed By the VA Secretary Anthony Principi
to the VA Memorials and Cemetery Committee in Washington. It
is a statutory Advisory Committee that meets in Washington and
General Cardenas lives at home with his wife Gladys and their
children and grandchildren in San Diego, California.