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Latinas in Aviation festival recognizes pioneering women

Camaraderie, encouragement themes at College Park Airport event

A general aviation air force of four single-engine Cessnas and a Robinson helicopter descended on historic College Park Airport in central Maryland helping transport more than a dozen Hispanic female aviation pioneers—Latinas—who made their mark in aviation as commercial or corporate pilots, flight instructors, aviation mechanics, air traffic controllers, information technology specialists, and flight managers. Latina pilots comprise about 1 percent of the estimated 7 percent of certificated female pilots in the United States.

  • Author and light sport pilot Jacqueline Ruiz poses near a poster promoting the inaugural Latinas in Aviation Global Festival that featured 15 of the 22 pioneering Hispanic women Ruiz profiled in the 2020 book, "Latinas in Aviation." Photo by David Tulis.
  • Latina pilots Sandra Granados, retired U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Olga Custodio, and Women in Aviation International Bay Area Co-President Ana Uribe-Ruiz pose for a photo after flying into College Park Airport in Maryland in a Cessna 182 Skylane. Photo by David Tulis.
  • Author and light sport pilot Jacqueline Ruiz autographs her book, "Latinas in Aviation" before the inaugural Latinas in Aviation Global Festival at the College Park Airport and the College Park Aviation Museum in Maryland. Photo by David Tulis.
  • Latina pilots Sandra Granados and Ana Uribe-Ruiz sign autographs during the Latinas in Aviation Global Festival. Photo by David Tulis.
  • A group of pioneering Hispanic women in aviation preserve the moment during the Latinas in Aviation Global Festival. Photo by David Tulis.
  • Retired U.S. Air Force Reserve Lt. Col. Olga Custodio hugs Women in Aviation International's Kelly Murphy after her arrival at College Park Airport in Maryland. Photo by David Tulis.
  • U.S. Air Force veteran Graciela Tiscareno-Sato donates her flight suit to the College Park Aviation Museum during the Latinas in Aviation Global Festival. Photo by David Tulis.
  • Participants in the Latinas in Aviation Global Festival 2021 document the event at College Park Airport in Maryland. Photo by David Tulis.
  • The inaugural Latinas in Aviation Global Festival brought 15 aviators highlighted in a book by author and light sport pilot Jacqueline Ruiz, several hundred aviation enthusiasts, Hispanic community members, and other leaders to the College Park Airport and the College Park Aviation Museum in College Park, Maryland, October 2, 2021. Photo by David Tulis.

Latinas in Aviation author and light sport pilot Jacqueline Ruiz highlighted the courage, determination, and zeal of 22 Latin American female aviators in her 2020 book and acted as emcee during introductions for 15 of the pioneers who shared their aviation stories at the College Park Aviation Museum during the inaugural Latinas in Aviation Global Festival in College Park, Maryland, October 2.

Ruiz, a double cancer survivor driven to tell the women’s stories, was swamped by autograph-seekers who braved the additional security at one of the “Maryland Three” airports as soon as she stepped from a Cessna 172 Skyhawk. Her advice to “dream high and touch the sky” was shared by many of the guests who told stories of dogged determination while making their mark in the historically male-dominated field of aviation.

Ruiz said her purpose in life “is two words: elevate women.” She also reminded them that “to achieve a dream, you have to be a dream catcher.”

The event coincided with National Hispanic Heritage Month and brought a diverse crowd of several hundred community members, aviators, and others celebrating the achievements and contributions of Hispanic American women.

Retired U.S. Air Force Reserve Lt. Col. Olga Custodio of San Antonio arrived via Cessna 182 wearing her military flight suit and signed autographs for dozens of youths, adults, and fellow pilots. In the book, Custodio points out that she was the first Latina to fly the Northrop T–38 Talon jet trainer and it remains her favorite aircraft. Custodio went on to become a captain for American Airlines and celebrated a 20-year commercial pilot career.

Airbus A320 captain Jacqueline Pulido broke ground as the first female pilot at Volaris Airlines, a Mexican air carrier that now employs 50 female pilots. The transition from the airline employing one female Hispanic pilot to filling flight decks with dozens of Latinas was nothing short of “amazing,” she told attendees.

It was the first time many of the women met each other in person, so they shared selfies, hugs, and introductions to significant others under a glorious blue sky at the longest continually operating airport in the United States.

Behind the podium a U.S. Navy Sikorsky SH–60 Seahawk drew onlookers to the twin-engine medium-lift helicopter parked in the grass nearby. Military Sealift Command member Lt. Rochelle Balun took time to explain the helicopter’s anti-submarine warfare, search and rescue, drug interdiction, anti-ship warfare, cargo lift, and special operations capabilities to a steady stream of curious attendees.

Student pilot Belen Lopez plans to become a commercial pilot and considered the event mandatory, so she traveled from California to Maryland to meet the potential mentors. She said the decision was “a no brainer” because of the networking and encouragement it would afford her. “It was very inspirational, to be honest. I wasn't expecting to get emotional, but I finally found somebody that I can relate to, and somebody that can relate to me.” She said meeting the Latina aviation pioneers “felt good. It felt like home.”

David Tulis

David Tulis

Content Producer
AOPA Media Content Producer David Tulis joined AOPA in 2015 and is a private pilot with single-engine land and sea ratings and a tailwheel endorsement. He is also a certificated remote pilot and co-host of the award-wining AOPA Hangar Talk podcast. David enjoys vintage aircraft ad photography.
Topics: Career, Fly in

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