|Robert L. Cardenas|
March 10, 1920 |
Mérida, Yucatán, Mexico
|Allegiance||United States of America|
|Service/branch||United States Air Force|
|Years of service||1939 - 1973|
|Commands held||Vice commander, Sixteenth Air Force, 1969
USAF Special Operations Force, 1968
835th Air Division, 1966
18th Tactical Fighter Wing, 1964-66
51st Fighter Interceptor Wing, 1955-57
51st Fighter Interceptor Group, 1955-57
51st Maintenance & Supply Group, 1955-57
|Battles/wars||World War II
|Awards||Air Force Distinguished Service Medal
Legion of Merit, 1 OLC
Distinguished Flying Cross
Meritorious Service Medal
Air Medal, 4 OLCs
Joint Service Commendation Medal
Air Force Commendation Medal, 1 OLC & Presidential Citation
Spanish Grand Legion of Aeronautical Merit with Sash & Dagger
He was born in Mérida, Yucatán, Mexico. When he was five, his family moved to San Diego, California. He excelled in mathematics and physics in high school. When Cardenas was a teenager, building models and learning about gliders first sparked his interest in airplanes.
Pre-World War II
In 1939, while attending San Diego State, he decided to enlist as a private in the California National Guard. In 1940, Cardenas became an aviation cadet. He graduated, received his pilot wings and was commission a second lieutenant in the Army Air Corps in July 1941.
In 1942, Lt. Cardenas was sent to Twentynine Palms, California to help establish the Army Air Corps Glider School. He was assigned to Wright Field, Ohio and became a flight test officer. Cardenas rose quickly in position, was promoted to operations officer and finally director of the Flight Test Unit, Experimental Engineering Laboratory at Wright Field.
World War II
In 1944, he was assigned to the 506th Bombardment Squadron, 44th Bomb Group, also known the Flying Eightballs, based at Shipdham in Norfolk, England. He flew his first mission on the B-24 Liberator “Southern Comfort” on January 24.
On March 18, Captain Cardenas was flying as Command Pilot for the 44th Bomb Group on his 20th mission. His airplane, the B-24 “Sack Artists” (serial number 42-100073), was shot down by enemy anti-aircraft fire. His attack run was supposed to target the Manzell Air Armaments factory in Friedrichshafen, Germany. However, the right wing was severely damaged by a shell and two engines were set on fire. According to his report relayed to the War Department, his number 2 engine was "hit by flak [and] on fire," causing the loss of 3,000 ft. altitude. Despite this damage he "Rejoined formation for [a] second [bomb] run." After this pass his "[numbers] 2 and 4 [engines were] on fire," and "[number] 3 [was] vibrating badly" in addition to "gas leaks," damage to bomb bays, wings, and electrical systems, and "hydraulics inoperative." Several members of the crew were also wounded, including Cardenas, who received a head injury when a piece of flak pierced his helmet. Since the plane was severely damaged and losing stability, 1st Lieutenant Raymond J. Lacombe decided to pilot the plane to Switzerland. Cardenas' crew all parachuted safely. The bomber then exploded at a low altitude and sheared off the top of several trees.
Capt. Cardenas landed on the German side of Lake Constance. He swam across the lake to the Swiss side in order to evade capture. He was first interned at a camp for American officers at Adelboden, and was later assigned to teach Swiss officers how to fly interned American bombers at Dübendorf Airfield near Zurich. On 27 September 1944, Cardenas escaped into France with the help of Swiss civilians and the French resistance. He was flown to England and then sent back to the United States to recover from his head injury.
In November 1944, he attended Central Instructors School for B-24 at Smyrna, Tennessee. After graduation, he became a test pilot and was then assigned to Wright Field, Ohio. While at Wright Field, he attended Experimental Flight Test School and later became assistant chief, Bomber Section, and chief, Bomber Operations Section, Flight Test Division.
Post-war to retirement
In 1945, he started piloting experimental aircraft. He piloted a captured German jet fighter, the Messerschmitt Me 262, and the Arado Ar 234 jet bomber. Cardenas also piloted the XB-42 Mixmaster and XB-43 Jetmaster. He was assigned chief test pilot for bomber aircraft and flew all prototypes of that class for the next four years.
Then in 1948, Major Cardenas was the Officer in Charge of Flight Test Division at Muroc Air Force Base and was Chief Air Force Test Pilot of the Northrop YB-49 flying wing. Cardenas later claimed that the YB-49 rotated backwards in stall, and that he warned Glen Edwards about it, who later died in a YB-49 crash. Jack Northrop claimed such a rotation was impossible. After a transcontinental flight in the YB-49, President Truman ordered Cardenas to do a flyby of Pennsylvania Avenue at rooftop level.
In 1968, Colonel Cardenas was promoted to brigadier general and assigned to Command of the Air Force Special Operations Force at Eglin Air Force Base. Following his assignment to Eglin AFB, he became Vice Commander of the 16th Air Force in Spain. There he negotiated with Muammar al-Gaddafi the withdrawal of US forces from Wheelus Air Base in Libya.
After his assignment in Spain, General Cardenas was assigned to Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE) in Belgium. At SHAPE, he was the U.S. Deputy to LIVE OAK, a code name for joint military planning operation of the United States, Great Britain and France in response to the Soviet blockade and interference of Western access to Berlin. His final duty assignment was Chief of National Strategic Target List Division, Joint Strategic Target Planning Staff, at Offutt AFB, Nebraska.
He retired from the Air Force as a brigadier general in 1973.
Cardenas has worked as an executive in the private sector.
In 1983, President Ronald Reagan appointed him California coordinator for Southwest Border Economic Action Group. In 1985, he was appointed to Chairman of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Advisory Group by California Governor George Deukmejian. He also served on the California Council of Criminal Justice.
In 1987, Governor Duekmejian appointed General Cardenas to the California Veterans Board, he eventually became the chairman.
In 1993, General Cardenas resigned from the California Veterans Board to serve as the chairman of the San Diego United Veterans Council and a director on the Board of Veterans Memorial Center & Museum, in San Diego.
He is currently a member of the Veteran Administration’s Memorials and Cemetery Committee. He was appointed to the committee by former VA Secretary Anthony Principi. He is also a trustee of the Flight Test Historical Foundation at Edwards AFB.
He currently lives with his wife, Gladys, and family in San Diego, California.
Military awards and decorations
United States (in order of precedence):
- Air Force 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,
- Presidential Citation,
- Air Force Outstanding Unit Award with two Oak Leaf Clusters
Spain: Grand Legion of Aeronautical Merit with Sash & Dagger.
In 1993, the University of New Mexico’s Department of Engineering honored him for his professional contribution and leadership.
In 2004, he was honored as a Distinguished Alumnus of the United States Air Force Test Pilot School at Edwards AFB.
- Derek Horne, "Brigadier General Robert L. 'Bob' Cardenas," Lycos Network Website, available at: http://derekhorne.tripod.com/cardenas.html.
- "Brigadier General Robert L. Cardenas". Washington, D.C.: United States Air Force. September 1, 1971. Retrieved January 10, 2015.
- Telegram from U.S. Military Attaché, Bern, Switzerland to U.S. War Department, Number 1261, dated 23 March 1944, National Archives and Records Administration, College Park, MD, RG 319, E57.
- See 44th Bomb Group Roll of Honor and Casualties (2005), p.243-4, available at http://www.greenharbor.com/ROHPDF/ROH.pdf.
- Telegram from U.S. Military Attaché, Bern, Switzerland to U.S. War Department, Number 1422, dated 29 May 1944, National Archives and Records Administration, College Park, MD, RG 319, E57.
- Internment Data Card of Robert Cardenas, Swiss Federal Archives, Bern, Switzerland, Box E 5791 1988/6.
- Modern Marvels: Extreme Aircraft s11-e33, 21-26min. History Channel, August 25, 2004. Retrieved: August 25, 2012.
- "National Aviation Hall of Fame reveals names of four to be enshrined in “Class of 2015”". Dayton, Ohio: National Aviation Hall of Fame. December 16, 2014. Retrieved December 25, 2014.
- Personal Biography
- Detailed unofficial website by Derek Horne (friend of General Cardenas)
- Official Air Force Biography at the Wayback Machine (archived November 18, 2007)