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Wingspans: Celebrating the life of Bob Cardenas

Devotion.

That is the best word to describe the late Brig. Gen. Robert “Bob” Cardenas, who was laid to rest March 31, 2022, at Miramar National Cemetery at 102 years old.

At a ceremony attended by many who knew him, there was perhaps nobody more familiar with that devotion than Retired Col. Mike Cardenas, his eldest son.

A B-2 Spirit, the Spirit of Pennsylvania, from the 419th Flight Test Squadron, returns to Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., after conducting a flyover during funeral services for the late Brig. Gen. Robert “Bob” Cardenas, March 31, 2022. (Air Force photograph by Chase Kohler)

“My father just loved being an American. He believed serving his country and giving back was our purpose in this world, and he acted as a perpetual rock for everyone who knew him. He kept the foundation strong wherever his devotion took him” notes Cardenas.

After his retirement from active duty, Brig. Gen. Cardenas maintained two passions — flying wings and the Miramar National Cemetery. “American military members needed another option, and my father wanted to ensure he could contribute to make that a reality,” Cardenas said.

Despite a career spanning decades as a war hero, famed test pilot and National Aviation Hall of Fame member, many would be surprised to hear that Cardenas actively told the next generation to not follow in his footsteps.

“He strongly believed everyone had to take their individual journey and establish their own values. Don’t try and mimic someone else.” Brig. Gen. Cardenas took this from personal experience. Before flying B-24 Liberators in Germany, his first assignment after flight school was to fly gliders in Twentynine Palms. “That was the worst posting any new aviator could have, but he accepted the assignment in stride,” said Cardenas.

Ultimately, it was his vast experience designing glider operations that lead Brig. Gen. Cardenas to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, after World War II, where engineers relied heavily on his experience for a variety of test programs, including acting as chief test pilot for the infamous Northrop YB-49.

“He absolutely adored the flying wing design so much that up until his final day’s he wore a leather jacket with a painted flying wing on the back of it,” Cardenas explained “That was his baby.”

A B-2 Spirit conducts a memorial flyover during a memorial service for Air Force Brig. Gen. Robert Cardenas at the Miramar National Cemetery, San Diego, California, March 31, 2022. Cardenas was born March 10, 1920, and passed away March 10, 2022. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Jose S. GuerreroDeLeon)

His remarkable contributions to the design of the flying wing is what lead to the 412th Test Wing’s determination that only one aircraft would be suitable for a final flyby, the Northrop Grumman B-2 Spirit. While a typical B-2 flyby is a rare appearance in itself, this flyby marked the first time current active duty test pilots of the 419th Flight Test Squadron performed a public flyover in the Edwards based B-2 aircraft. Pilots and maintainers of the 419th considered it a fitting tribute for the flight test community.

“It was inspiring to pay tribute to General Cardenas in the aircraft he helped inspire so many years ago. The B-2 test community is a close family, and his impact lives on through everything we do today” noted Maj. Taylor Vantiger, test pilot and B-2 flight commander for the 419th Flight Test Squadron.

While the technology has changed drastically, the YB-49 and B-2 share an identical wingspan, a testament to the original pioneering design Brig. Gen. Cardenas helped test.

“To see the B-2 soar over today’s ceremony, it truly felt like my father was flying over all of us one last time. I can’t describe the feeling we felt as it roared over,” noted Cardenas. “Nothing happens without the dedication and efforts of so many. To see how many people my father impacted across the community, is heartwarming. I truly hope his journey shows that you can achieve anything if you focus.”

The March Air Force Base Honor Guard lays retired Air Force Brig. Gen. Robert Cardenas to rest at the Miramar National Cemetery, San Diego, California, March 31, 2022. Cardenas was born March 10, 1920, and passed away March 10, 2022. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl Raynaldo Ramos)
A YB-49, flies over Edwards Air Force Base, Calif. Bob Cardenas served as chief test pilot for the YB-49 program. (Air Force photograph)
A B-2 Spirit, the Spirit of Pennsylvania, from the 419th Flight Test Squadron, returns to Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., after conducting a flyover during funeral services for the late Brig. Gen. Robert “Bob” Cardenas, March 31, 2022. (Air Force photograph by Giancarlo Casem)

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