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Lt. Colonel Olga   Custodio, USAF (Retired)

Lt. Colonel Olga Custodio, USAF (Retired)

America’s First Latina Fighter Pilot & STEM Advocate


Turned away from flight school because she was a woman, Olga Custodio went on to break barriers (including the sound barrier) as the first Latina to complete USAF military pilot training, first to become a USAF pilot, and later, as the first Latina commercial pilot for American Airlines. She also holds firsts for all women as the first woman flight instructor at two major Air Force bases. Living by the mantra, “querer es poder” (loosely translated to “where there’s a will there’s a way”), Custodio’s perseverance, fighting spirit, leadership expertise and passion for flying took her to where few women have gone before. Now retired, she continues to lead as a sought-after inspirational speaker, championing STEM and motivating women and girls to pursue aviation and male-dominated professions. Read More >

Growing up all over the world in a military family, Custodio was inspired to follow in her father’s footsteps and serve her country. In college, she wanted to enroll in a military training program, but they did not yet accept women. Instead, Custodio deferred her dreams, graduating from the University of Puerto Rico, marrying and having a family. Ten years later, she finally had the opportunity to pursue her dream, entering USAF undergraduate pilot training (UPT) and graduating in the top five percent of her class as the program’s first Latina graduate and a graduate of Officer Training School. Custodio received her fighter pilot qualification and became the first female T-38 UPT flight instructor at Laughlin and Randolph AFBs. She was also awarded the Air Force HQ Air Education and Training Command (AETC) Aviation Safety Award for superior airmanship during an emergency engine failure due to a bird strike, during which she executed a safe heavy weight landing.

In 1987, Custodio resigned her USAF regular commission, entering the USAF Reserves. She was assigned to the Headquarters Air Force Personnel Center and began a 20-year career flying for American Airlines. Her career at American began as a flight engineer on the Boeing 727, quickly moving up to First Officer. Within a short time, she flew the B-727 internationally. Custodio earned her Air Transport Pilot certificate and became a Fokker 100 Captain a few years later. Her last five years with American was based in Miami, flying the Boeing 757 and 767 internationally to Europe and South America.

Now retired from both American and the USAF Reserves, Lt. Colonel Custodio is an active charter member of the Women Military Aviators Association, a member of Women in Aviation International and the Order of Daedalians. She is also executive director and treasurer of the Women in Aviation International Alamo City Chapter. Dedicated to attracting more women and young people to aviation and STEM careers, she is a mentor with the Aviation Explorers organization in San Antonio and the School of Aeronautics of the Inter American University in Puerto Rico. She is also the vice president of the Hispanic Association of Aviation and Aerospace Professionals (HAAAP). In 2017, she became the first Latina inducted into the San Antonio Aviation and Aerospace Hall of Fame. A natural leader, Custodio has been recognized twice by the Senate of Puerto Rico as an outstanding and exemplary citizen and the first and only Puerto Rican female pilot in the USAF and American Airlines. Recently, she was featured in a commercial made by Modelo Especial beer as part of their “Fighting Spirit” advertising campaign.

With her indomitable spirit, dedication to country and service, and commitment to inspiring the next generation, Olga has energized audiences around the country as a popular motivational and leadership speaker with her personal journey and professional accomplishments. Sharing her belief that “if you want something to happen, you have to go out and get it!” she motivates all of us to overcome obstacles and never stop believing in our dreams. Read Less ^

Speaker Videos

Fighting for Respect

Persistence, Passion, and Patience

Speech Topics

An Evening with Olga E. Custodio