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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

The first Latina to complete U.S. Air Force Undergraduate Pilot Training and graduate in the top 5% of her class (of 48) with a fighter qualification to fly the T-38 as an instructor pilot, Olga E. Custodio points to three principles that have helped her become successful in a profession dominated by men: overcoming self-doubt, staying open to possibilities, and seeing herself as an equal.

The path to her dream, however, has not been a walk in the park. While studying at the University of Puerto Rico, she tried to participate in the university’s Reserve Officer Training Corps program but was denied the opportunity, as women were not allowed at that time.

But Custodio never gave up hope, and she went on to fulfill her dream of becoming a commissioned military officer—and then some. A female military aviation pioneer, she served for 24 years in the U.S. Air Force, retiring as a Lieutenant Colonel. As a pilot instructor pilot, she received an Aviation Safety Award for superior airmanship for her handling of an engine failure in-flight emergency. After transitioning to the U.S. Air Force Reserves, Custodio became the first American Airlines Latina commercial airline pilot and later upgraded to Captain. Besides the T-38, Custodio flew the T-41, B-727, F-100, B-757, and B-767. She owns a Cessna T210L and has also flown several general aviation aircraft like the Stearman biplane, Cessna-172, Beechcraft-35 V-tail, Cirrus Vision Jet, and few others.

Today, Custodio is retired with over 11,000 flight hours to her name. Now a speaker and community leader, she serves on the board of several nonprofit organizations, (Latino Pilots Association, Order of Daedalians, Dee Howard Foundation, and Women in Aviation Alamo City) which advocate for inspiring and empowering students, especially those from underserved communities, to pursue careers in aviation and aerospace. Custodio supports the Experimental Aviation Association (EAA) moderating several female aviation panels during AirVenture at Oshkosh, WI since 2018. This year she presented two female panels representing Latinas in the aviation professions. As a STEM advocate, she has also volunteers her time as a speaker and role model at local schools, universities, corporations, and military base groups, encouraging young women and men to reach for their dreams. Custodio is a mentor with the Women in Aviation International, Aviation Explorers, and the School of Aeronautics of the InterAmerican University in Puerto Rico to mention a few. In 2017, she was inducted into the San Antonio Aviation and Aerospace Hall of Fame. Custodio recently co-authored in the “Latinas in Aviation” anthology and is included as one of the 30 inspiring Latinas/Latinos who have shaped the United States in “Nuestra América”, published by the Smithsonian Institution. Custodio is the Honoree of the 35th Hispanic Heritage Foundation – 2022 STEM Award.

By pioneering many firsts during her career, Custodio has shattered stereotypes and served as a powerful role model for those aspiring to become a pilot. From breaking barriers and overcoming challenges as a woman in a male-dominated profession throughout her career, Custodio has gained essential life insights and perspectives that she shares with everyone, especially women working to achieve their dreams.

Custodio lives in San Antonio, Texas, with her husband of 48 years, Edwin—who is also her best friend, supporter, and advocate for everything she sponsors. They have two children, Marcia and Edwin II, and one grandson, Jedi. She shares her successes with her parents and family, her biggest supporters.

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