Former Air National Guard commander dies in flying accident

May 5, 2014

The former commander of the Syracuse Air National Guard unit, then later state guard operations, died over the weekend in a flying accident in Arizona.

The Maricopa County Sheriff's Office says 61-year-old Retired Major General Robert Knauff died Saturday afternoon after his glider crashed in Aguila, in the desert outside of Phoenix.

Maj. Gen. Robert Knauff (Ret.).
Maj. Gen. Robert Knauff (Ret.).
Credit provided photo / Air National Guard

Knauff assumed command of the Syracuse-based 174th Fighter Wing in 1996 and was commander of the New York Air Guard from 2005 until his retirement from the military in 2009.

Most recently, Knauff was the operations officer of NUAIR, the alliance of defense contractors and universities that successfully lobbied the Federal Aviation Administration to designate upstate New York as a civilian unmanned drone testing site.

On Saturday, a tow rope connecting Knauff's glider to the airplane somehow became disconnected when he was about 100 feet in the air, said Maricopa County Sheriff's Office spokesman Christopher Hegstrom. 

Witnesses told investigators Knauff appeared to try making a sharp turn. The glider stalled then struck a pole.

No one else was injured.

Maj. Gen. Patrick A. Murphy, the adjutant general and commander of the New York National Guard, said this about Knauff Sunday:

Our entire military family extends our deepest sympathies on the loss of this great Air Force leader and friend. Bob Knauff stayed active in his support of Soldiers and Airmen even in his retirement years and our National Guard has lost a tremendous leader and supporter.

Knauff was a resident of Manlius, outside of Syracuse, and was active in several community groups. He was awarded numerous military honors during his service.