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Celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month

Airlines for America has commemorated Hispanic Heritage Month throughout September and October, recognizing aviators with Hispanic heritage whose contributions have shaped the country and left an enduring legacy. Many began their careers in service to the United States and established themselves as pioneers who went on to implement aviation policy and open opportunities for future generations. Their accomplishments are a small picture of the many skilled individuals who comprise the aviation industry, and we celebrate their stories this month.

Oscar F. Perdomo

Known as the last “ace in a day” for World War II, Major Oscar Francis Perdomo was a Mexican American pilot born in 1919 in El Paso, Texas. Perdomo entered the Army Air Forces (AAF) – the predecessor to the U.S. Air Force – in February 1943. At the time, the AAF were civilian pilot schools with government contracts, and Perdomo graduated from flight school after 11 months later. He went on to receive additional aircraft training as a Republic P-47 Thunderbolt pilot and entered service in the Pacific theater during World War II as a member of the 507th Fighter Group. During Perdomo’s last combat mission near present-day Seoul, his fighter group encountered more than 50 enemy aircraft. Perdomo shot down Nakajima Ki-84 “Frank” fighters in his Republic P-47 Thunderbolt, nicknamed “Lil Meaties Meat Chopper,” an aircraft painted in homage to his toddler son with an illustration of a diapered baby on the front fuselage. Perdomo’s actions in battle earned him the distinction of “ace in a day,” which designated a fighter pilot credited with shooting down five or more enemy aircraft during combat. He completed the war with more than 50 flight hours and was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross and the Air Medal. Perdomo was recalled during the Korean War and eventually left active duty in 1958 with the rank of major.

Elwood Richard Quesada

Washington, D.C., native Elwood “Pete” Quesada was introduced to aviation through his service in the U.S. Army Air Corps after receiving his wings and commission in 1925. In 1929, Quesada was a member of the flight crew of the Army C-2 Question Mark, which broke a world endurance record and sustained an inflight refueling record of 151 hours in the air. Throughout World War II, Quesada flew numerous combat missions and held positions of command, including with the 12th Fighter Command, the 9th Fighter Command and the 9th Tactical Air Command. In one instance, while commanding the 12th Fighter Command and serving as deputy to British Air Vice Marshal Hugh P. Lloyd in June 1943, Quesada deployed Spitfires, American P-40s, FW-109s, P-39s and Beaufighters – later joining in a P-38 to intercept German aircraft heading toward an Allied convoy. The counterattack held off more than 200 German aircraft and resulted in no ships lost. Later, Quesada was involved in the D-Day preparations, and he trained pilots with techniques such as dive-bombing ahead of the invasion at Normandy. Quesada also established Headquarters on Normandy for D-Day plus one and directed planes in aerial cover and air support for the Allied invasion. Following a distinguished military career and numerous awards in recognition of his service, he retired from the Air Force at the rank of lieutenant general in 1951. Post-war, Quesada became President Eisenhower’s Special Adviser for Aviation in 1957 and was later appointed as the first administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Quesada was critical in establishing the FAA’s organizational structure and shaping safety standards and policies, such as the mandatory commercial pilot retirement age of 60. He worked to enhance the safety of flying through increased inspections of pilot qualifications and airline maintenance practices, along with modernizing air traffic control systems. Quesada departed the FAA in 1961 and went on to briefly own the Washington Senators baseball team and participate in the corporate development of Washington, D.C.

Olga E. Custodio

Born in Puerto Rico, Olga Custodio traveled the world as her father, a U.S. Army sergeant was transferred from base to base before embarking on a career in the aviation industry. Custodio worked in accounting for Puerto Rico International Airlines prior to entering the U.S. Air Force (USAF) Officers Candidate School. Upon her successful completion of the Flight Screening Pilot Officer Training School in 1980, she was commissioned as a second lieutenant and qualified for Undergraduate Pilot Training (UPT) at Laughlin Air Force Base (AFB). Her graduation from UPT was marked with distinction, not only because she graduated in the top five percent of her class but also because she was the first Latina to complete U.S. Air Force military pilot training. Once Custodio received her fighter pilot qualification, she became the first female Northrop T-38 Talon (T038) UPT flight instructor at Laughlin AFB and the first female T-38 instructor pilot at Randolph AFB. In 1987, Custodio resigned her regular commission and entered the Air Force Reserves. She joined American Airlines the following year and became one of the first Latina commercial airline captains in the United States. Over the course of a 20-year career in commercial aviation, Custodio flew Boeing 727, 757 and 767, and Fokker 100 aircraft across routes that included Canada, the Caribbean, Mexico, Central and South America and Europe. She retired from commercial aviation in February 2008 after amassing more than 11,000 flight hours. Today, Custodio continues to partner with organizations that work toward the advancement of women, Hispanics and underserved individuals in the aviation industry. Custodio’s many acknowledgments include being the first Latina inducted into the San Antonio Aviation and Aerospace Hall of Fame in recognition of her professional achievements as one of the first Latina pilots in the military and commercial aviation.

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