General (Ret.) Robert Cardenas made his mark on history as one of American’s premier test pilots, a combat leader in both bombers and fighters, and as the first commander of the Air Force Special Operations Force. Born in Mexico in 1920, he started his aviation career at age 17 by fling gliders. In 1944, he joined the 44th Bombardment Group in England as a B-24 command pilot. During Cardenas’ twentieth bombing mission, enemy artillery struck his aircraft, blowing him out of the fuselage. He safely landed in Germany and evaded capture, successfully returning to Allied hands with the assistance of the French Underground. After the war, Cardenas served as an experimental test pilot. He was the chief Air Force test pilot on the YB-49 Flying Wing project and piloted the B-29 that launched Capt. Charles Yeager’s X-1 into supersonic flight history. Cardenas later commanded the 18th Tactical Fighter Wing at Kadena Air Base, Japan, from 1964-1966. This tour earned him the Legion of Merit and Distinguished Flying Cross for F-105 operations in Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War.
In 2002, General Cardenas was inducted into the Air Commando Hall of Fame for his contributions to the development of Special Forces. Today, Cardenas leads an active life in San Diego with his wife, Gladys, their children and grandchildren.