APB Speaker Olga Custodio to Receive 2022 Hispanic Heritage STEM Award
02 Sep 2022
Olga Custodio, America’s First Latina Fighter Pilot, STEM Advocate and APB Speaker, will receive the 2022 STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Math) Award from the Hispanic Heritage Foundation (HHF) during the 35th Annual Hispanic Heritage Awards on Sept. 30. The historic program, which was created by the White House to commemorate the establishment of Hispanic Heritage Month in America, is among the highest honors by Latinos for Latinos and supported by 40 national Hispanic-serving institutions.
Custodio will be recognized alongside recently announced Honorees Daddy Yankee, Los Lobos, and Marvel Studios’ Victoria Alonso, with additional Latino artists and visionaries to be announced shortly.
“The Hispanic Heritage Foundation is honored to recognize the trailblazing achievements of Olga Custodio and present what is possible to our youth, especially to young Latinas,” said Jose Antonio Tijerino, president and CEO, HHF. “Her representation in the military and aviation is a powerful statement on the value the Latino community provides our country and beyond.”
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, Custodio’s path to becoming a pilot was not an easy one. 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, 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 a few others.