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Olga Custodio      

Lt. Colonel (Retired), US Air Force; America’s First Latina Fighter Pilot, Executive Director of the San Antonio Chapter of Women in Aviation International & STEM Advocate

Olga E. Custodio is a Retired Captain from American Airlines with over 11,000 hours of flight time has flown the Boeing 727, Fokker 100, Boeing 757 and Boeing 767 to the Caribbean, Central America, South America, Europe, Mexico Canada, and U.S. Her education and professional certificates include an Air Transport Pilot certificate with single and multiengine land and instrument ratings, a Flight Engineer Certificate - Turbojet Powered rating, a Radiotelephone Operator permit, FAA Medical Certificate and a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Puerto Rico. She recently graduated from the Masters Leadership Program, MLP, in San Antonio.

Olga is also a Retired Lt Colonel from the United States Air Force (USAF) Reserves with 24 years of service. She received her commission through Officer Training School in 1980. She was among the first females and the first Hispanic to graduate from USAF Undergraduate Pilot Training (UPT.) Graduating in the top 5% she received her fighter pilot qualification and became the first female T-38 UPT flight instructor at Laughlin AFB and then first female T-38 Pilot Instructor Training (PIT) flight instructor at Randolph AFB. She was awarded the Air Force HQ Air Education and Training Command (AETC) Aviation Safety Award for superior airmanship during an engine failure bird strike emergency and executing a safe heavyweight landing in weather minimums.

Holding the distinction as the first Latina to complete UPT and become a pilot, Olga E. Custodio has proven that gender is never a hindrance to be successful in a profession that is dominated by men. Overcoming self-doubt, staying open to possibilities, and seeing oneself as an equal to be relevant are just some of the principles she believes in, and have driven her to be successful in her chosen career.

A daughter of a U.S. Army NCO from Puerto Rico, Olga grew up traveling between continents and saw the world before she was 15 years old. Her exposure to several opportunities to fly globally instilled in her a great fascination with airplanes. This sparked her dream to become a pilot. The path to her dream is, however, not a walk in the park. During the process, she faced numerous rejections. While studying at the University of Puerto Rico, she tried to participate in the university’s Reserve Officer Training Corps program but was denied for women were not allowed at that time. Waiting for a long time for a training slot to open up at Officer Training School, a now-or-never moment finally arrived when she was working for the DoD. Olga graduated from Officer Training School and qualified for Undergraduate Pilot Training at Laughlin AFB in Texas. A year later, she graduated from UPT.

A woman who has upheld strong values and resilient character, Olga believes in the mantra, querer es poder or where there is a will, there is power. She considers her sheer determination as one of the most important assets that propels her to succeed. Her persevering and tenacious attitude—which has always been an integral part of her character—drives her to fulfill her goals regardless of the situation she is into. In all the tasks she has undertaken, Olga has always demonstrated her strong motivation to achieve results that would deliver positive impacts and inspire others. From breaking barriers and overcoming challenges as a woman in a male-dominated profession throughout her career, Olga has gained important life insight and perspectives that she shares with everyone, especially women who are working to achieve their dreams.

As of present, Olga currently busies herself working with different nonprofit organizations that advocate for inspiring and empowering students, especially those from underserved communities, to pursue careers in aviation and aerospace. Olga is on the Board of Directors of the Women in Aviation International Alamo City Chapter, the Dee Howard Foundation, and a Trustee of the Order of Daedalians Foundation serving on the Foundation’s Scholarship committee as well as the Stinsons Flight #2 Board and the Flight’s Scholarship Chair. Olga is a member of the Women Military Aviators Association (charter member), the Women in Aviation, International, Inc., the Allied Pilots Association and the Order of Daedalians.

She has delivered compelling presentations and speeches on career pathways of aviation to various school districts at the Texas Education Service Center (ESC), Region 20 which services 19 counties. As a STEM advocate, she is a speaker and role model at many schools, universities, corporations, military base groups throughout the U.S. and organizations such as Boy and Girl Scouts of America and Big Brother and Big Sisters, encouraging young women and men to reach for their dreams. Apart from these, Olga serves as a mentor with the Women in Aviation International, Aviation Explorers, and the School of Aeronautics of the Inter American University in Puerto Rico. Having been inducted into the SA Aviation and Aerospace Hall of Fame, she recently recorded her military history as a female military pilot pioneer for the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum in Washington D.C. The Pentagon commissioned an artist to paint her portrait to be displayed for the Air Force Hall of Pioneers that is in the works. Among the many recognitions and awards, Olga was bestowed the Latina Influencer and Valor Award at the Friends of the National Museum of American Latino event in Los Angeles, California last year. In August 2020 Olga became an author collaborating in the first published book about Latinas in Aviation.

With a passionate love in what she does best, combined with a great mix of skills and over 30 years of military and civilian professional aviation career, Lt. Col, Olga E. Custodio is a hard person to beat. As the first Latina military pilot and American Airlines pilot, she ideally represents diversity and inclusion.

Currently residing in San Antonio with her husband of 45 years, Edwin—as well as her best friend, supporter, and advocate for everything she sponsors—they are blessed with two children, Marcia and Edwin II, and one grandson, Jedi.

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