Lt. Col. Olga Custodio, born in San Juan, Puerto Rico, was the first Latina to complete U.S. Air Force Undergraduate Pilot Training (UPT) and the first Hispanic woman to become a military pilot. She was also the first woman from Puerto Rico to achieve either of these accomplishments. She was recently honored at the “Latinas in Aviation” Festival in Maryland at the College Park Aviation Museum in Maryland.
Her motto: “Querer es poder” or “Will is power.”
Custodio’s father was a sergeant in the U.S. Army, and Custodio traveled with him and the rest of her family to postings around the world. They settled in Puerto Rico again when she was 15, and at age 16 she began studying at the University of Puerto Rico.
She tried to join the ROTC, but women were not allowed into the program. She completed her Bachelor’s degree and went to work. One of the positions she held was in the accounting office of Puerto Rico International Airlines. She later worked for the Department of Defense in Panama.
Eventually, Custodio was accepted into the Air Force pilot training program. She served as a flight trainer and received the HQ AETC Aviation Safety Award for superior airmanship.
A second career
After nearly 24 years of service, Custodio retired and worked with the Air Force Reserve. American Airlines hired her and she became one of the first Latina airline captains in the United States, flying Boeing 727, 757, and 767, and Fokker 100 aircraft in the Caribbean, Central America, South America, Europe, Mexico, and Canada.
Custodia was the first Puerto Rican commercial airline pilot.
When she retired, she had racked up more than 11,000 flight hours.
In 1992, Custodio founded the Ballet Folklorico Borikèn, a Puerto Rican folk dance group to celebrate her heritage. She plays the cuatro in a cuatro orchestra, Ecos de Puerto Rico, and represented Puerto Rico at the Texas Folklife Festival for over 22 years. She is a member of the Puerto Rican Heritage Society in San Antonio, Texas.
She also founded Dragonfly Productions, LLC, a company that made personal documentaries for individuals and companies.
Recently, Custodio wrote one of the pieces collected in a book, Latinas in Aviation: Stories of passion, power, and breaking into the aviation industry.
Custodio is a member of Women Military Aviators Association (charter member), the Women in Aviation, International, Inc., the Allied Pilots Association and the Order of Daedalians. She is a Trustee of the Order of Daedalians’ Foundation and serves on the Foundation’s Scholarship committee. She is on the Stinsons Flight #2 Board and is the Stinson’s Flight #2 Scholarship Chair. She also serves as a mentor with the Aviation Explorers organization in San Antonio and the School of Aeronautics of the Inter-American University in Puerto Rico; and is the Vice President of the Hispanic Association of Aviation and Aerospace Professionals (HAAAP).
Custodio was the first Latina inducted into the San Antonio Aviation and Aerospace Hall of Fame. She has been recognized as an exemplary citizen by the Puerto Rico Senate and by the CaliforniaHouse of Representatives. She has also received the Sociedad Herencia Puertorriqueña CoquiSA Award and the “La Belleza Inteligente” award.
Custodio speaks to organizations like Boys and Girls Clubs, Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, and at schools and universities, encouraging STEM study and personal growth. “Hopefully they came to listen to something inspiring that I had to say, and shared how I met the challenges and barriers that I experienced, and hopefully take away something they can use in their lives,” she told a university paper.