The Unstoppable Olga Custodio
A Trailblazer in the Sky
Olga Custodio didn’t set out to change the
course of U.S. Air Force history, but she
did. A new frontier was reached in the
skies when she became the first Latina military pilot.
After serving her country for 24 years, Custodio retired
as a Lieutenant Colonel from the United States Air
During this time, she was the first Latina to
graduate from United States Air Force Undergraduate
Pilot Training in 1981, the first female to become a
T-38 Undergraduate Pilot Training flight instructor at
Laughlin Air Force and at Randolph Air Force Base.
Custodio resigned her regular commission in
1987 and entered the USAF Reserves to fly for
American Airlines. She embarked on what would
become a 20-year-long career as a commercial
airline pilot. She started out by working as a flight
All female crew of the USAF T-38 4-ship fly-by over the Indianapolis Motor Speedway
May, 1983 (each T-38 has two pilots).
engineer in Boeing 727 and worked her way up to
First Officer based in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.
Within a few years, she had earned her Air
Transport Pilot certificate and then served as an
American Airlines Captain. During her last five years
with the airline, she was based in Miami, and flew
Boeing 757 and 767 to the Caribbean, Central
American Airlines Captain Olga
America, South America, Europe, Mexico, Canada and
the U.S. The retired Captain recorded more than
11,000 hours of flight time. In spring 2017, she was
inducted into the San Antonio Aviation and Aerospace
Hall of Fame for her professional accomplishments
and her legacy as the first Latina pilot in the military
and commercial aviation.
USAF Capt. Olga Custodio, fini
flight – T-38 Pilot Instructor Training,
Randolph AFB, TX.
She is in one word: Indomitable.
But the Puerto Rican native is a humble person.
She credits her upbringing, family and colleagues for
“My parents never made me feel like I couldn’t
do anything. Instead, it was a mindset of: If you work
hard, you can achieve anything,” Custodio says.
But her tenacity and her determination cannot
be emphasized enough.
The first role model in the self-described Army
Brat’s life was her father. He served in the military and
made it a point to travel with his family. The constant
traveling and living in places like Iran, Taiwan and
South America, forged an unbreakable bond among
Custodio, her parents, Ismael and Olga Nevarez, and
brother Peter Nevarez.
She suspects if she had been raised in
Puerto Rico or in Latin America, she may have
been impacted by a stereotypical male-dominant
philosophy on life that is still a part of Latino culture
today. “It grounded me, and my parents always
wanted the best for me. They didn’t hold me back.
They set the bar high for me to go to college,” she
explains. She graduated from the University of Puerto
Rico.This sense of confidence and determination has
defined her. It has also transformed her into a role
model for those who surround her.
By Christine Bolaños
20 www.latinastyle.com Vol. 24, No. 6, 2018