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DMC Cultural Programs Series Presents Lt. Col. Olga Custodio, First Latina Military and Commercial Airline Pilot, as Guest Speaker on Feb. 8

Retired pilot’s presentation, “Lessons from the Flight Deck: Overcoming Doubt/Imposter Syndrome,” scheduled in Richardson Performance Hall, open to the public

Article by: Rosa Linda Reynoso

Lt. Col. Olga E. Custodio holding a model airplane

There’s a first for everything, and holding the distinction as America’s first Latina military and commercial airline pilot belongs to Lt. Col. Olga E. Custodio. The retired U.S. Air Force and American Airlines pilot will share her story during a guest lecture, “Lessons from the Flight Deck: Overcoming Doubt/Imposter Syndrome” as part of Del Mar College’s Cultural Programs Series on Wednesday, Feb. 8.  

As the first Latina to complete U.S. Air Force Undergraduate Pilot Training and to graduate in the top five percent of her class with fighter qualification to fly the T-38 as an instructor pilot, Lt. Col. Custodio proved  that gender is never a hindrance to success in professions dominated by men. During her lecture at Del Mar College, Lt. Col. Custodio will share how she overcame self-doubt, stayed open to possibilities, saw herself as an equal and how this vision of equality is paramount to making the impossible possible in any career path.

The presentation is FREE and begins at 6 p.m. in Richardson Performance Hall, located on the Heritage Campus at 101 Baldwin Blvd. (78404). Get online directions and campus map. The public is invited to participate. For more information, contact Dr. Erinn McComb, DMC Associate Professor of History, at emccomb1@delmar.edu or 361-698-1368.

In addition to the College’s Cultural Programs Series, the event is sponsored by the DMC Social Sciences Department and its History Program, Mexican American Studies Program, Aviation Technology Program, TRiO Program, Student Leadership and Campus Life Office and the Veterans Services Office.

A pioneer of many firsts during her aviation career, Lt. Col. Custodio has shattered stereotypes and served as a powerful role model for those aspiring to become a pilot. From breaking barriers and overcoming challenges as a woman in a male-dominated profession throughout her career, she has gained essential life insights and perspectives that she shares with everyone, especially women working to achieve their dreams.

The daughter of a U.S. Army non-commissioned officer from Puerto Rico, Lt. Col. Custodio grew up traveling between continents and saw the world before she was 15-years-old. Her exposure to several opportunities to fly globally instilled a great fascination with airplanes and sparked her dream of becoming a pilot.

However, the path to her dream was not a walk in the park.

During her journey to become a pilot, Lt. Col. Custodio faced numerous rejections. While studying at the University of Puerto Rico, she tried to participate in the Reserve Officer Training Corps program but was denied the opportunity because women were not allowed at that time.

She waited a long time for a training slot to open at Officer Training School, but a now-or-never moment finally arrived while Lt. Col. Custodio held a job with the Department of Defense. After graduating from Officer Training School, she qualified for Undergraduate Pilot Training (UPT) at Laughlin Air Force Base (AFB) in Texas. After graduating a year later, she became the first female UPT T-38 instructor pilot with the 47th Flying Training Wing and the 560th Flying Training Squadron for Pilot Instructor Training (PIT) at Randolph AFB. As a pilot instructor, she received an Aviation Safety Award for superior airmanship for her handling of an engine failure in-flight emergency.

But, that wasn’t all for the female pilot instructor. Lt. Col. Custodio continued to fulfill her dream and became a commissioned military officer.

As a female military aviation pioneer, she served for 24 years in the U.S. Air Force, and retired at her current military rank. After transitioning to the U.S. Air Force Reserves, Lt. Col. Custodio became American Airlines’ first Latina commercial airline pilot, and she was later upgraded to Captain.

Currently retired with over 11,000 flight hours to her credit, Lt. Col. Custodio serves as a speaker and a community leader, sitting on the boards of several nonprofit organizations that includeg Latino Pilots Association, Order of Daedalians, Dee Howard Foundation and Women in Aviation Alamo City, which advocate for inspiring and empowering students, especially those from underserved communities, to pursue careers in aviation and aerospace.

As a Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) advocate, she volunteers her time as a speaker and role model at local schools, universities, corporations and military base groups to encourage young women and men to reach for their dreams. Additionally, she is a mentor with the Women in Aviation International, Aviation Explorers and the School of Aeronautics of the InterAmerican University in Puerto Rico, to mention a few.

In 2017, Lt. Col. Custodio was inducted into the San Antonio Aviation and Aerospace Hall of Fame. She recently helped co-author the “Latinas in Aviation” anthology and is included as one of the 30 inspiring Latinas/Latinos who have shaped the United States in “Nuestra América,” which was published by the Smithsonian Institution. She also is the 35th Hispanic Heritage Foundation’s 2022 STEM Award honoree.

To learn more about Lt. Col. Custodio, visit www.purflygirl.com



About Del Mar College

Del Mar College empowers students to achieve their dreams. We offer quality programs, individual attention, outstanding instruction through faculty with real-world experience and affordable costs to credit and noncredit students in Corpus Christi and the South Texas Coastal Bend area. Nationally recognized while locally focused, we’re ranked in the top two percent of community colleges in the country granting associate degrees to Hispanic students (Community College Week). Del Mar College focuses on offering our students programs that match current or emerging career opportunities. Whether students are interested in the fine arts, sciences, business, occupational or technical areas, students get the education they need for the future they want at Del Mar College.