by Liz Duca
“Querer es poder...if you can dream it, you can achieve it.” Those words speak to the core of Olga Custodio and it is a mantra that she uses to inspire those around her. The moment Olga decided that she wanted to become a military pilot it became her mission, and she was not going to take “no” for an answer.
Olga’s desire to fly began at a young age. Her father was in the Army and she has many memories of traveling around the world with her family. However, when she first attempted to become a military officer through her university’s United States Air Force (USAF) Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC), she was told women were not allowed into the program. A later attempt to enter through the USAF Officer Training School was also denied. Despite the obstacles that were placed in her path, Olga continued toward her goal full throttle with grit and determination. When she was 26 years old, already with a family of her own, she decided to make one last attempt to apply to USAF Officer Training School. Her three career choices on her application: pilot, pilot, and pilot. She became all three and then some.
Olga became the first Hispanic female to graduate from USAF Undergraduate Pilot Training, as well as the first female T-38 Talon Flight Instructor at both Laughlin Air Force Base (AFB) in Del Rio, Texas and Randolph AFB in San Antonio, Texas. It was during her time as a T-38 instructor that she was awarded the Headquarters Air Education and Training Command Aviation Safety Award for the superior airmanship she displayed while handling an in-flight emergency when one of her engines failed after a bird strike.
In total, Olga served 24 years in the military and rose to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel in the United States Air Force Reserve. Her time in the reserves allowed her to make her mark at American Airlines as well, where she became the first Hispanic American Airlines Captain, retiring with over 11,000 hours flying the Boeing 727, Fokker 100, Boeing 757 and Boeing 767. She was recognized on two occasions by the Senate of Puerto Rico as an outstanding and exemplary citizen, and as the first and only Puerto Rican female pilot in the United States Air Force and American Airlines.
Olga continues to hold a number of roles in her community to include being Vice President of the Hispanic Association of Aviation and Aerospace Professionals (HAAAP), a non-profit organization she helped found in San Antonio in 2010, Executive Director and Treasurer of the Women in Aviation International Alamo City Chapter, a member and trustee of the Order of Daedalians, and a mentor with the Aviation Explorers in San Antonio and the School of Aeronautics at the Inter American University in Puerto Rico. She is also the Director and Founder of the Ballet Folklorico Boriken in San Antonio, a Puerto Rican folk dance group since 1992. The group was founded to promote and preserve Olga’s cultural heritage in Texas and has participated in many cultural and educational events. Boriken is the only group representing Puerto Rico in the annual Texas Folklife Festival.
Olga Custodio’s accomplishments, like the WASP, are a true testimony to the power behind believing that your dreams can become a reality. “The WASPs laid the foundation for us, the second generation of military aviators,” said Custodio. “We are the next layer of military pilots who continue to inspire more women to know they can do and become anything they dream.”
Querer es poder!