Twenty-one-year-old Paulo Claudio may not have had the flying experience he expected to have by this point in his life, but he keeps a delightfully positive attitude about it all the same.
[Pictured above: Paulo (right) flying with AFSC pilot Jerry Simon.]
Paulo has dreamed of becoming an airline pilot since he was three. As a little boy, he “liked how the airline pilots walked around the airport like kings and queens. There’s just so much responsibility placed on these individuals in this career. The feeling of getting airborne still gives me excitement every time.”
Paulo kept his eyes on the prize throughout his childhood and teen years, pursuing a Professional Pilot degree at Oklahoma State University and working as a flight instructor. Earlier this year, as he neared graduation, Paulo received some devastating news: he has a rare cancer known as alveolar soft part sarcoma. Shortly after, he began regularly making the long trip from his home in Little Rock, Arkansas, to MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston.
A case worker at MD Anderson told Paulo and his family about Angel Flight South Central. “Angel Flight has been a blessing for us,” Paulo says. “Those eight-hour car rides to Houston were making me sicker. These amazing people are really angels on earth, volunteering their time and aircraft!”
In mid-May, Paulo and his mother, Lorna, were set up to take their first Angel Flight, but they had to re-schedule, and the volunteer pilot, Jerry Simon, had a conflict and was unable to fly at the new time they needed. Having learned about Paulo’s circumstances, Jerry asked the family to keep in touch if he could help in any way. Shortly after, Paulo needed to travel to his university to receive a Top 10 Senior award. The additional traveling was taking its toll. Lorna reached out to Jerry and asked if he could help Paulo. Jerry left from his home airport in Houston and flew the Claudios from Stillwater, OK, home to Little Rock, AR, before returning to his own home in Houston.
In addition to sparing Paulo the uncomfortable eight-hour car ride, Jerry also gave Paulo his first opportunity to fly right seat in his jet. The younger pilot appreciated the gift: “He even let me hand-fly his aircraft – a great honor. Jet fuel is a very expensive thing, and I was very happy this gentlemen volunteered his time, aircraft, and money (like all the other pilots) just for my enjoyment and to help me out in my condition!”
During his regular trips since then between Little Rock and Houston, Paulo has befriended many of our pilots, who enjoy having a fellow aviator on board. Because he is fully licensed, AFSC’s pilots typically let Paulo do some of the flying as well. “I have ‘test-flown’ a variety of aircraft through this more than I could have in my school training environment,” he says. In an ideal world, he would never have received the diagnosis he did, but Paulo chooses to see the silver lining: that he has come to know many senior pilots and fly many types of aircraft. AFSC’s pilots appreciate their younger colleague as well: “He really is an inspiration to be around,” says Jerry Simon.
[Above: Paulo and AFSC pilot Fred Greene in June.]
Paulo remains very optimistic about his future, and is working on improving his health so he can return to his life plans. And, he says, as soon as he’s able, he is going to buy his own twin-piston aircraft and begin flying for Angel Flight.