Lt. Colonel Olga Custodio, USAF (Retired)America’s First Latina Fighter Pilot & 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 Olga 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, Olga became the first American Airlines Latina commercial airline pilot and later upgraded to Captain. Besides the T-38, Olga 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, Olga is retired with over 11,000 flight hours to her name. Now a speaker and community leader, she works with several nonprofit organizations, (Latino Pilots Association, Order of Daedalians, Ninety-Nines, and Women in Aviation, International) that advocate for inspiring and empowering students, especially those from underserved communities, to pursue careers in aviation and aerospace. As a STEM advocate, she has also volunteered 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. Olga 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. Olga 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.
By pioneering many firsts during her career, Olga has shattered stereotypes and served as a powerful role model for aspiring to become a pilot. From breaking barriers and overcoming challenges as a woman in a male-dominated profession throughout her career, Olga has gained essential life insights and perspectives that she shares with everyone, especially women working to achieve their dreams.
Olga lives in San Antonio, Texas, with her husband of 47 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.