Cesar Rodriguez (United States Air Force pilot)
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|Cesar Antonio Rodriguez|
"Last American Ace" 
|Born||March 22, 1959
Guaynabo, Puerto Rico
|Service/branch||United States Air Force|
|Years of service||1981-2006 |
|Battles/wars||Gulf War (Operation Desert Storm)
Air engagements of the Gulf War
1999 NATO bombing of Yugoslavia
|Awards||Distinguished Flying Cross
Legion of Merit
Cesar Antonio "Rico" Rodriguez was a United States Air Force officer and pilot from 1981 to 2006. His three air-to-air combat victories brought him closer to becoming an air ace than any American pilot since the Vietnam War. Rodriguez scored his first two kills in 1991, during the first Gulf War, against a Mikoyan MiG-29 and a Mikoyan MiG-23 of the Iraqi Air Force. His third kill came against a MiG-29 of the Yugoslavian Air Force during the 1999 NATO bombing of Yugoslavia.
Early Life and Career
Rodriguez was born in 1959 at Guaynabo, Puerto Rico; son of a career U.S. Army NCO he lived on various military bases and graduated from Antilles High School at Fort Buchanan, Puerto Rico in 1977. He received a degree in Business Administration from The Citadel in 1981 and was commissioned as an officer in the U.S. Air Force, after attending Undergraduate Pilot Training he was awarded pilot wings in November, 1982. His first operational assignment was flying the Fairchild Republic A-10 Thunderbolt II at Suwon Air Base, South Korea; in 1985 he was selected to attend the Instructor Pilot Course at Randolph AFB, Texas then spent the following 3 years as an AT-38 Instructor Pilot at Holloman AFB, New Mexico; in 1988 he transitioned to the McDonnell Douglas F-15 Eagle and was assigned to the 33d Tactical Fighter Wing at Eglin AFB, Florida. Rodriguez flew missions in support of the invasion of Panama in 1989 and following service in Operation Desert Storm served on the staff of 9th Air Force at Shaw AFB, South Carolina then attended Air Command and Staff College. Beginning in 1995 he was Chief of Force Requirements and Executive Officer to the Commander of U.S. Air Forces Europe at Ramstein Air Base, Germany then returned to operational flying as a pilot and Chief of Safety with the 48th Fighter Wing at RAF Lakenheath, UK; he next served as Assistant Chief of Safety at Air Combat Command Headquarters in Virginia and then attended the Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island. In 2002 he was assigned as Deputy Commander of the 366th Operations Group at Mountain Home AFB, Idaho and also deployed to Kuwait in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom serving as Operations Group Commander for the 332d Air Expeditionary Wing, the largest flying unit in Central Command. His final assignment was as Commander of the 355th Mission Support Group at Davis-Monthan AFB, Arizona; he retired in November, 2006. His numerous awards include the Legion of Merit, 3 Distinguished Flying Crosses and the Air Medal with 11 Oak Leaf Clusters.
Rodriguez, call sign "Rico" scored the first two air-air direct hits of his Air Force career in the Gulf War. His first hit occurred when he and his wingman Craig "Mole" Underhill came across two Iraqi MiG-29 "Fulcrums". The two F-15s quickly locked up the MiG-29s, which turned east to avoid them. However, an AWACS then reported two more MiG-29s coming in fast at them from the west a mere 13 miles away. The two F-15s and two MiG-29s charged straight at each other. Underhill quickly fired an AIM-7 at the first MiG. At the same time, the second MiG-29, piloted by Captain Jameel Sayhood, "locked up" Rodriguez, who then quickly executed a dive down to the deck to avoid the radar lock and nearly collided with the AIM-7 Sparrow fired by Rodriguez's wingman which, seconds later, destroys the lead MiG. After seeing his wingman killed, Sayhood decided to bug out briefly. Rodriguez rejoined with Underhill until Sayhood reappeared. Underhill locked him up, though his computer would not let him fire the AIM-7 missile to destroy the MiG because of a glitch in his IFF which told him that the MiG was a friendly aircraft. Rodriguez and Sayhood then proceeded to merge, whereupon they both turned left and promptly got into a turning fight. As they descended towards the ground, Sayhood attempted to execute a split-s maneuver. However having insufficient altitude (about 600 ft) he crashed into the ground. Rodriguez was credited with a maneuvering kill.
His second kill came as he was flying in formation with three other pilots, Captain Rory Draeger with his wingman Captain Tony "Kimo" Schiavi, and Rodriguez with his wingman Captain Bruce Till. An AWACS picked up four Iraqi MiG-23s taking off from the airfield designated H2. The four F-15s turned ninety degrees, and spread out over a space of ten miles to maximize their radar and missile coverage. One of the four MiGs bugged out with mechanical problems. Draeger assigned the targets, he will take the lead MiG, while Schiavi takes the northern one, while Rodriguez was assigned the southern MiG. The three of them locked up the MiGs and all fired AIM-7 radar guided missiles at the MiGs. All three were destroyed within seconds of each other to for a "textbook" beyond visual range dogfight. The moment of the missiles impact in the MiG-23 was caught in the cockpit camera of that MiG, which was later recovered by a special forces team.
During Operation Allied Force in the Balkans Rodriguez was deployed for the campaign against the Serbs. On the first night of the campaign, March 24, 1999, several Serbian MiG-29s rose up to resist the air attacks. Two MiGs took off on the opening night from Nis Air Force Base. The first was damaged from a missile strike from a Dutch General Dynamics F-16 Fighting Falcon fighter, whilst the second flown by Serbian Major Ilijo Arizanov was engaged and shot down by an F-15 Eagle piloted by Rodriguez. The MiG-29s of the Serbian Air Force were very old and suffering severe problems with their systems. Major Ilijo was having trouble getting his radar working when he was shot down by Rodriguez. This would be Rodriguez's final kill, making him the leading MiG killer since the Vietnam War and tying him with three other USAF pilots for the most aerial victories since Vietnam.
After his combat service, Rodriguez continued to serve with the US Air Force until November 30, 2006, when he retired with the rank of Colonel and the nickname "Last American Ace". He currently resides in Tucson, Arizona and works for Raytheon.
Aerial victory credits
|Date||Type||Location||Aircraft flown||Unit Assigned|
|January 19, 1991||MiG-29||Iraq||F-15C||33 TFW, 58 TFS|
|January 26, 1991||MiG-23||Iraq||F-15C||33 TFW, 58 TFS|
|March 24, 1999||MiG-29||Serbia||F-15C||48 FW, 493 FS|