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Lt. Colonel Olga   Custodio, USAF (Retired)

Lt. Colonel Olga Custodio, USAF (Retired)

America’s First Latina Fighter Pilot & STEM Advocate

Biography

Holding the distinction as the first Latina to complete U.S. Air Force Undergraduate Pilot Training (UPT) and become a pilot, Olga E. Custodio has proven that gender is never a hindrance to be successful in a profession that is dominated by men. Overcoming self-doubt, staying open to possibilities, and seeing oneself as an equal to be relevant are just some of the principles she believes in, and have driven her to be successful in her chosen career. Read More >

A woman who has upheld strong values and resilient character, Olga believes in the mantra, querer es poder or where there is a will, there is power. She considers her sheer determination as one of the most important assets that propels her to succeed. Her persevering and tenacious attitude—which has always been an integral part of her character— drives her to fulfill her goals regardless of the situation she is into. In all the tasks she has undertaken, Olga has always demonstrated her strong motivation to achieve results that would deliver positive impacts and inspire others.

A daughter of a U.S. Army NCO from Puerto Rico, Olga grew up traveling between continents and saw the world before she was 15 years old. Her exposure to several opportunities to fly globally instilled in her a great fascination to airplanes. This sparked her dream to become a pilot. The path to her dream is, however, not a walk in the park. During the process, she faced numerous rejections. While studying at the University of Puerto Rico, she tried to participate in the university’s Reserve Officer Training Corps program but was denied for women were not allowed at that time.

After college, Olga worked on different jobs including accounting secretary at Puerto Rico International Airlines; checking accounts processing clerk at Twin City Bank; executive assistant for a law firm office in Arkansas; office admin for an equal opportunity office in Panama; and air terminal admin specialist at the Department of Defense in Panama. While performing these jobs, she never stopped striving toward her dream. Waiting for a long time for a training slot to open up at Officer Training School, a now-or-never moment finally arrived when she was working for the DoD. Olga graduated from Officer Training School and qualified for Undergraduate Pilot Training at Laughlin AFB in Texas. A year later, she graduated from UPT.

Olga had fulfilled her dream of becoming a commissioned military officer, and then some. She served for 24 years in the U.S. Air Force, retiring as a Lt. Colonel. Along the way, she received an Aviation Safety Award for superior airmanship for her handling of an in-flight emergency, when some birds hit her plane in bad weather just after takeoff. Yet even then, she was not done pursuing pioneering work. Transitioning to the U.S. Air Force Reserves to continue her military career, Olga became the first Latina to become a commercial airline pilot and upgraded to Captain, flying for American Airlines. She has flown the Boeing 727, Fokker 100, Boeing 757 and Boeing 767 airframes to the Caribbean, Central America, South America, Europe, Mexico, Canada, and around the U.S.

As of present, Olga is retired with over 11,000 flight hours to her name. She currently busies herself working with different nonprofit organizations that advocate for inspiring and empowering students, especially those from underserved communities, to pursue careers in aviation and aerospace. She has delivered compelling presentations and speeches on career pathways of aviation numerous times at the Texas Education Service Center (ESC), Region 20. As a STEM advocate, she has also volunteered her time as a speaker and role model at many local schools, universities, corporations, military base groups, and organizations such as Boy and Girl Scouts of America and Big Brother and Big Sisters, encouraging young women and men to reach for their dreams. Apart from these, Olga serves as a mentor with the Women in Aviation International, Aviation Explorers, and the School of Aeronautics of the Inter American University in Puerto Rico.

By pioneering many firsts in the entirety of her career, Olga has shattered stereotypes others many have had for her and served as a good role model to those who aspire to become a pilot. From breaking barriers and overcoming challenges as a woman in a male-dominated profession throughout her career, Olga has gained important life insight and perspectives that she shares with everyone, especially women who are working to achieve their dreams.

With a passionate love in what she does best, combined with a great mix of skills and over 30 years of a military and civilian professional aviation career, Lt. Col, Olga E. Custodio is a hard person to beat. As the first Latina military pilot and American Airlines pilot, she ideally represents diversity and inclusion.

Currently residing in San Antonio with her husband of 45 years, Edwin—as well as her best friend, supporter, and advocate for everything she sponsors—they are blessed with two children, Marcia and Edwin II, and one grandson, Jedi. Read Less ^

Speaker Videos

Fighting for Respect

Persistence, Passion, and Patience

Speech Topics

Women in Non-Traditional Professions

Holding the distinction as the first Latina to complete UPT and become a pilot, Olga has proven that gender is never a hindrance to be successful in a profession that is dominated by men. Overcoming self-doubt, staying open to possibilities, and seeing oneself as an equal to be relevant are just some of the principles she believes in, and have driven her to be successful in her chosen career.

Emotional Intelligence: Lessons from the Flight Deck

Olga considers her sheer determination as one of the essential assets that propelled her to succeed as well as understanding how her actions and feelings as an airline Captain and crewmember affected her crew. Identifying her responsibilities as the authority in charge of the aircraft’s flight operation and safety helped her manage and understand the value of listening to each crew member’s needs to assist them in fulfilling their duties.  Her perseverance and tenacity drove her to accomplish her duties regardless of the situation. In all the tasks she has undertaken, Olga has always demonstrated her strong motivation to achieve results that would deliver positive impacts and inspire others.

Overcoming Doubt: Impostor Syndrome?

Overcoming self-doubt, staying open to possibilities, and seeing oneself as an equal to be relevant are just some of the principles Olga believes in and has driven her to be successful in her chosen career.

Defining Success: Work-Life Balance

Starting her aviation career as a wife and mother, Olga developed a work-life balance that helped her succeed in her aviation training and profession.  Identifying her definition of success, she managed a fulfilling aviation career and 46+ years of marriage with two children.  Understanding the most critical keys to the work-life balance.