San Antonio resident receives National Hispanic Heritage award as first Latina military pilot

Olga Custodio talks life before and after retirement

The first Latina military pilot is receiving a huge honor at the National Hispanic Heritage Awards in Washington, D.C., on Saturday.

SAN ANTONIO – The first Latina military pilot is receiving a huge honor at the National Hispanic Heritage Awards in Washington, D.C., on Saturday.

Olga Custodio, a pioneer in military and commercial aviation, has been a resident of San Antonio for many years after serving at Randolph Air Force Base.

Custodio, originally from Puerto Rico, knew about military life at a young age. Her father was in the U.S. Army.

“He served in the later part of World War II, and then he went back to enlist again and went to the Korean War,” Custodio said.

She grew up traveling all over the world, and when she graduated high school, she thought she would follow in her father’s footsteps and join the military.

But Custodio said she wanted to be an officer, and women weren’t yet allowed to, so instead, she went to college and worked at Puerto Rican International Airlines.

After graduating, she tried again, and she got into officer training school and then pilot training in 1980.

In 1981, Custodio got her U.S. Air Force wings and became the first Latina military pilot.

First Latina military pilot Olga Custodio. (Courtesy Olga Custodio)

She flew numerous types of military aircraft and became an instructor pilot.

Later in life, when she joined the reserves, she became one of the first United Airlines Latina commercial pilots.

“I was not in this to be the first of anything,” Custodio said. “You know, when it happens organically, it’s just meant to be.”

Now retired, Custodio is a STEM advocate and continues to fly her personal plane any chance she gets.

Recently, Custodio found out she would be one of the recipients of a Hispanic Heritage Foundation Award.

Custodio will be receiving the STEM award at a ceremony Saturday in Washington, D.C. She hopes her story will inspire future female pilots.

The Hispanic Heritage Awards will air Saturday on PBS. Other honorees this year include Daddy Yankee, Los Lobos and Marvel Studios’ Victoria Alonso.

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About the Authors:

Erica Hernandez is an Emmy award-winning journalist with15 years of experience in the broadcast news business. Erica has covered a wide array of stories all over Central and South Texas. She's currently the court reporter and cohost of the podcast South Texas Crime Stories.

Misael started at KSAT-TV as a photojournalist in 1987.