History of Early Hispanic Pilots Robert L. "Bob" Cardenas
Robert L. "Bob" Cardenas    

Robert L. "Bob" Cardenas (born March 10, 1920) is a retired Brigadier General of the United States Air Force. 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 General Cardenas was a teenager, he began his interest in airplanes by building models and learning about gliders.

Due to his excellent grades, San Diego State University, invited him to study there. In 1939, while attending San Diego State, he decided to enlist as a private in the California National Guard, thus began his distinguished military career. In 1940, General 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, he 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. General Cardenas rose quickly in position, was promoted to operations officer and finally director of the Flight Test Unit, Experimental Engineering Laboratory at Wright Field. In 1944, he was assigned to the 506th Bombardment Squadron, 44th Bomb Group, also known the Flying 8-balls based in RAF Shipdham, England. He flew his first mission on the B-24 Liberator “Southern Comfort” on January 24.

On March 18, Captain Cardenas was the commander of the B-24 “Sack Artists” (serial number 42-100073), his 20th mission; the plane was shot down. 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 both engines were a flamed. He received a head injury when a piece of flak pierced his helmet. Since the plane was severely damaged and losing stability, 1st Lieutenant Raymond Lacombe, decided to pilot the plane to Switzerland. Capt. Cardenas crew all parachuted safely.

Capt. Cardenas landed on the German side of Lake Constance. He swam across the lake to the Swiss side in order to evade the Nazis. Prior to the D-Day invasion, he made it back to England with the help of the Swiss and the French resistance. From England he was 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.

In 1945, he started piloting experimental aircraft. He piloted a captured German jet fighter, the Messerschmitt Me 262 and the Arado Ar 234 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.

In 1947, he was assigned the Officer in Charge of Operations and was the command pilot for the B-29 Superfortress that launched Captain Chuck Yeager in the supersonic experimental aircraft, Bell X-1.

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.

During the Korean War, he was assigned to Wright Field and Edwards Air Force Base testing new fighters and bombers. Additionally, he was assigned to Okinawa and then to The Pentagon.

During the Vietnam War, Cardinas flew F-105 Thunderchief combat missions and then assigned to McConnell AFB as a trainer for the F-105.

In 1968, Colonel Cardinas 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.

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