Brigadier General Robert L Cardenas

Article Courtesy of The USAF and Edwards Air Force base

Brig. Gen. Robert L. Cardenas is chief, National Strategic Target List Division, Joint Strategic Target Planning Staff, at Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska. The mission of this office is to develop and compile a listing of targets that must be struck in a general nuclear war by our retaliatory forces. The NSTL Division also develops estimates of Soviet defenses and offensive capabilities for use in nuclear planning. It also is responsible for all intelligence aspects of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Coordinated Reconnaissance Plan.

Gen. Cardenas was born at Merida, Yucatan, Mexico in 1920. He attended schools in San Diego, California, and graduated from the University of New Mexico at Albuquerque in 1955 with a Bachelor of Science in mechanical engineering. His military career began in 1939 when he became a member of the California National Guard. He entered aviation cadet training in September 1940 and received his pilot wings and commission as second lieutenant in July 1941.

Subsequent assignments included duty as flight instructor at Kelly Field, Texas; glider pilot instructor, engineering officer and executive officer at Twentynine Palms, Calif.; and flight test officer, operations officer and then director of Flight Test Unit, Experimental Engineering Laboratory, Wright Field, Ohio, until January 1944.

During World War II, he served as a B-24 aircraft pilot in the European Theater of Operations with the 506th Bombardment Squadron. He was awarded the Air Medal and two oak leaf clusters for bombing missions before being shot down over Germany in March 1944. Despite head wounds from flak, he made his way back to Allied control.

After returning to the United States in November 1944, General Cardenas attended Central Instructors School (B-24) at Smyrna, Tennessee., and was then assigned to Wright Field, Ohio, as a test pilot. While at Wright Field, he also attended Experimental Flight Test School and later became assistant chief, Bomber Section, and chief, Bomber Operations Section, Flight Test Division.

From June 1947 to July 1949 he was an experimental test pilot at Edwards Air Force Base, California, and Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio. He was twice awarded oak leaf clusters to the Air Medal for experimental flight tests at Edwards AFB.

Gen. Cardenas aided in pioneering jet aircraft development, test flying the P-59 and XB-45, the Air Force’s first jet fighter and bomber. He flew the B-29 launch aircraft that released the X-1 experimental rocket plane in which Charles E. Yeager, a captain at the time, became the first man to fly faster than the speed of sound.

He attended Air Command and Staff School at Maxwell AFB, Ala., from August to December 1949. He again was assigned to Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio, where from January 1950 to August 1952 he held positions as technical assistant to chief of operations; special assistant to chief, Flight Test Division; chief, B-47 Program; and special project officer Bomber Branch, Weapons Systems Division.

From September to December 1952 he was a student in the Engineering School at the Air Force Institute of Technology, Wright-Patterson AFB. He then entered the University of New Mexico, graduating in February 1955.

In March 1955 Gen. Cardenas was assigned to Naha Air Base, Okinawa, where he served as commander, 51st Maintenance and Supply Group; commander, 51st Fighter Interceptor Group; and commander, 51st Fighter Interceptor Wing. Upon his return to the United States in August 1957, he attended the Air War College at Maxwell AFB, Alabama. He was assigned to Headquarters U.S. Air Force in the Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff for Plans and Programs, in August 1958, where he served as chief, Aircraft and Guided Missiles Program Division; and chief, Aerospace Vehicles Division.

In January 1962 he was assigned as chief, Special Plans Division, U.S. Strike Command at MacDill AFB, Florida, and was awarded the Joint Service Commendation Medal for his work with the command. From July 1964 to June 1966 he was again sent to Okinawa and served as commander of the 18th Tactical Fighter Wing at Kadena Air Base, Japan. While under his command, the wing won an Air Force Outstanding Unit Award for 10 months of exceptionally meritorious service in the Southeast Asia conflict and was awarded a second Air Force Outstanding Unit Award for Southeast Asia service for the period June 1965 to December 1966. Gen. Cardenas was awarded the Legion of Merit and Distinguished Flying Cross for F-105 aircraft operations in Southeast Asia.

He became commander of the 835th Air Division at McConnell AFB, Kansas, in July 1966, and in June 1968 he was assigned as commander of the U.S. Air Force Special Operations Force, Eglin AFB, Fla., and as commander was awarded the first oak leaf cluster to the Legion of Merit.

In July 1969 General Cardenas became vice commander of the Sixteenth Air Force with headquarters at Torrejon AB, Spain. He was awarded the Spanish Grand Cross; of the Order of Aeronautical Merit by the Spanish Government.

Gen. Cardenas was named U.S. Deputy Chief of Staff, LIVE OAK, in June 1970. LIVE OAK is colocated with Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe in Belgium.

Gen. Cardenas assumed duties as chief, National Strategic Target List Division, Joint Strategic Target Planning Staff, at Offutt AFB, Neb., in July 1971.

He is a command pilot. In addition to military decorations previously mentioned, he has been awarded the Meritorious Service Medal, Air Force Commendation Medal with oak leaf cluster, Purple Heart, and second oak leaf cluster to the Air Force Outstanding Unit Award Ribbon.

His hometown is San Diego.

He was promoted to the temporary grade of brigadier general effective March 15, 1968, and to permanent grade on Jan. 24, 1969, with date of rank as permanent brigadier general of March 15, 1968.

From June 1947 to July 1949, Cardenas was an experimental test pilot at Edwards Air Force Base and Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio, and was awarded the Air Medal with two oak leaf clusters for experimental flight tests at Edwards AFB. 

Undoubtedly, his most notable achievement was piloting the B-29 launch aircraft that released the X-1 experimental rocket plane in which then Capt. Charles “Chuck” Yeager became the first human to fly faster than the speed of sound in 1947.

Cardenas also aided in pioneering jet aircraft development by test flying the P-59 Airacomet and XB-45 — the Air Force’s first jet fighter and bomber. He was also the operations officer for testing of the YB-49 flying wing. Cardenas was the investigating officer after the YB-49 crashed killing Capt. Glenn Edwards and Maj. Daniel Forbes in 1948.

Before becoming a test pilot, he served as a B-24 Liberator pilot in the European Theater of Operations during World War II with the 506th Bombardment Squadron. He was awarded the Air Medal and two oak leaf clusters for bombing missions before being shot down over Germany in March 1944. Despite suffering head wounds from antiaircraft fire, he made his way back to Allied control.

After returning to the United States in November 1944, Cardenas was then assigned to Wright Field, Ohio, as a test pilot where he attended Experimental Flight Test School.

Cardenas’ last Air Force assignment was as chief, National Strategic Target List Division, Joint Strategic Target Planning Staff, at Offutt AFB, Nebraska. His mission was to develop and compile a listing of targets that must be struck in a general nuclear war by U.S. retaliatory forces and develop estimates of enemy defenses and offensive capabilities.

Cardenas was born at Merida, Yucatan, Mexico in 1920. He moved to San Diego at age 5 and attended San Diego State University. He would later graduate from the University of New Mexico in 1955 with a Bachelor of Science degree in mechanical engineering.

His military career began in 1939 when he became a member of the California National Guard. He entered aviation cadet training in September 1940 and received his pilot wings and commission as a second lieutenant in July 1941. He retired from the Air Force in 1973. In all, he flew 107 different aircraft types while serving in the Air Force, according to Air Force Test Center History Office documents.

By Dan