Luncheon Speaker Bio

Robert L. Cardenas
Brig Gen, USAF (Ret)

Brigadier 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, before joining 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 Glider School.

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 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 and 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 and Control Phase in the remaining YB-49 aircraft. 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 and following Air War College served as Commander of the 51st Fighter Interceptor Wing at Naha AB on Okinawa, followed by tours at the Pentagon and US Strike Command.  In 1962 he led a joint Army and 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 and  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.  Further prestigious assignments followed, and as Vice Commander of the 16th Air Force in Spain he had the dubious honor of negotiating with Muammar Gadhafi the withdrawal of US forces from Wheelus AFB in Libya.  General Cardenas retired in June 1973.

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 and Dagger.

Since his retirement, General Cardenas has held a number of prestigious positions, including his appointment in 1983 to the White House as the California coordinator for President Reagan’s Southwest Boarder Economic Action Group. Other appointments include being Chairman of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Advisory Group, a member of the California Council of Criminal Justice, Chairman of the California Veterans Board, Chairman of the San Diego United Veterans Council, and Director on the Board of the Veterans Memorial Center and  Museum.  He was recently appointed by the VA Secretary Anthony Principi to the VA Memorials and Cemetery Committee in Washington.

He has been honored by the University of New Mexico for outstanding professional contributions, the USAF Test Pilot School as distinguished alumnus and on September 1995 he was inducted into the “Aerospace Walk of Honor” at Lancaster, California.  The Sigma Chi fraternity celebrated 150 years of existence in 1995, selecting 150 of their members for the “Significant Sigma Chi Hall of Fame" and including General Cardenas, who says he was extremely humbled to have been chosen, and more so when he saw who the other 149 were.

General Cardenas lives at home with his wife Gladys and their children and grandchildren in San Diego, California.