JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-LACKLAND, Texas –
Retired Air Force Lt. Col. Olga Custodio, the first Latina military pilot to serve in the U.S. Air Force, still has fond memories of her flying days at Kelly Field.
Custodio was one of several area aviators honored March 30 at the San Antonio Aviation and Aerospace Hall of Fame awards at Port San Antonio, the site of the former Kelly Field.
“San Antonio, and Kelly Field especially, means a lot to me,” Custodio said. “My husband worked here when I moved to Brooks Air Force Base, and my officer’s entrance package came through here. Coming through the Air Force was a career I always dreamed of, and that’s what I was able to accomplish here.”
Custodio, the daughter of a U.S. Army sergeant, was born in San Juan, Puerto Rico in 1953. After living abroad in Taiwan, Iran and Paraguay, she applied to and was accepted at the U.S. Air Force Officers Candidate School in 1980.
Commissioned as a second lieutenant, Custodio completed her undergraduate pilot training at Laughlin Air Force Base, Texas and became a T-38 Talon instructor pilot. After transferring to Randolph Air Force Base, Custodio became the first Latina to serve as an Air Education and Training command flight instructor. In 1988, when Custodio joined the Air Force Reserve, she also accepted a civilian job, becoming the first Latina commercial airline captain working for American Airlines.
Custodio, who retired in 2003, was eager to recommend her career path to today’s young women, especially those living in San Antonio.
“I think everything is open to women now – so if they wanted to go into aviation, I don’t think they’d have any problem succeeding,” Custodio said. “And San Antonio – this is Military City USA. This is where military aviation started (at Fort Sam Houston). That’s special to me.”
Alongside Custodio, the hall of fame ceremony also honored former U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchinson, NASA astronaut Bernard Harris, the 433rd Airlift Wing, and handed out posthumous awards to Col. William Charles Ocker, Major Joseph Crane, Col. William Tuttle and Luther Bynum Clegg.
Hutchinson, a Texas senator during the closure and realignment of Kelly Air Force Base, championed the redevelopment of Kelly into Port San Antonio, which helped save thousands of aerospace jobs in the San Antonio area.
Harris, like Custodio, is a trailblazer. Born in Temple, Texas, Harris flew two space shuttle missions and became the first African-American to perform a spacewalk in orbit.
Ocker and Crane were early 20th century inventors who helped create navigation and automated landing instruments enabling the first military pilots to take off, fly and land safely in low-visibility conditions. Tuttle and Clegg both served on the San Antonio Chamber of Commerce in the early 1900s and helped establish Randolph Field in San Antonio in 1928.
While Custodio was proud her trailblazing career was recognized alongside these other honorees, she is also happy to be retired.
“I miss the flying,” Custodio said. “But, I also worked very hard over a 30-year career, so I also have to enjoy all the fruits of my labor. Now, my job, along with my husband, is to travel and enjoy life.”