Globally recognized as a woman with a fierce fighting spirit and determined mindset, Olga Custodio inspires women to chase their dreams as the first female Hispanic United States military pilot.
By: Haley Guerin
Olga Custodio was born in the beautiful city of San Juan, Puerto Rico. Her father was a sergeant in the United States Army, filling Custodio with an admiration for serving her country. Her father’s unique job also opened her up to many diverse experiences from an early age. She lived in various different areas, from the bustling streets of New Jersey to the deserts of Iran. While the geography surrounding her was certainly changing, one thing was certain for Custodio: she was born to fly.
When Custodio turned fifteen years old, her family returned to Puerto Rico and only one year later she was accepted into the University of Puerto Rico. Already the world was catching on to her intelligence and enthusiasm for hard work. While adjusting to her new life at the University of Puerto Rico, Custodio decided it was the perfect time to pursue her passion for serving the country as her father before her. With this in mind, she attempted to join the university’s ROTC. However, she was rejected based on one simple fact: she was a woman and only men were being accepted. Not only did this rightfully enrage Custodio, but it showed her that if she really wanted to chase her dreams, she had to be willing to fight for them with everything she had.
After earning her Bachelor of Arts from the University of Puerto Rico, Custodio worked in various industries in order to save money. She eventually landed a job at the Puerto Rico International Airlines accounting department. While it was certainly not the high energy flying job she had hoped for, it was at least a start. In fact, it was there that Custodio met her husband, Edwin Custodio. Later, they would become the proud parents of two children. When she was finished with her work at Puerto Rico International Airlines, she accepted a job offer in Panama from the United States Department of Defense. Custodio felt herself climbing the ladder of success, but she felt in her heart that she still had quite a way to go.
With this calling in her heart, she decided to apply to the US Air Force Officer Training School. Not only was Custodio admitted, but she was also accepted to become a US Air Force Pilot. Her hard work and ability to become a great aviator were finally being noticed. After successfully completing training school, Custodio was even commissioned a second lieutenant. She had certainly come a long way in her journey to becoming an influential female aviator, but her journey was not over yet. In fact, it was just beginning.
Custodio stood out in training school and qualified for undergraduate pilot training at the prestigious Laughlin Air Force Base. Upon graduation, she became the first Latina to finish the US Air Force Military pilot training. Not to mention, she graduated in the top five percent of her class as the program’s first female Hispanic graduate. Custodio certainly was getting her name out into the world as a fighter; someone who would not back down from an opportunity.
Eager to rock the aviation world with her new skills, Custodio worked hard and made lasting impressions on her students as an instructor pilot at Laughlin Air Force Base. This was her first military assignment and she was already making breakthroughs at her base as its first female T-38 Talon UPT flight instructor. In fact, she was so skilled at maneuvering this jet, especially during emergencies, that she was awarded the Aviation Safety Award for superior airmanship. Later, she would go on to serve at Randolph Air Force Base as an instructor pilot. During her time serving in the United States Air Force, Custodio even worked as Operations Officer and Check Pilot amongst other titles. She served for nearly twenty-four years, retiring with the rank of lieutenant colonel.
Custodio’s influence on the aviation industry extends beyond that of the Air Force. In 1988, she was hired by American Airlines as a commercial pilot. She was not just any commercial pilot. No, Custodio was one of the first female Hispanic commercial airline captains. She flew various types of aircraft to different regions of the world, retiring in 2008 with over eleven thousand hours.
Custodio will long be celebrated as one of the greatest, most transformative aviators of all time. She has been recognized twice for her achievements by the Senate of Puerto Rico and was inducted into the San Antonio Aviation and Aerospace Hall of Fame. She is a charter member of the Women Military Aviators Association and is the Vice President of the Hispanic Association of Aviation and Aerospace Professionals in which she encourages the next generation of flyGIRLS to never shy away from their dreams. Custodio’s message is clear: there is no obstacle too great for a dream worth chasing. See you in the skies, flyGIRLS!
Eager for more on Olga Custodio? Check out this cool article: