Aviation is Mindy Lindheim’s job and her passion. It is also how Lindheim (’14) has saved more than a dozen dogs and 18 cats from kill shelters. As a volunteer with Pilots to the Rescue, she may add guide dogs and endangered wolves, foxes and sea turtles to that manifest.
The nonprofit started flying in 2014 when friends Michael Schneider and Brian Orter delivered 10 dogs from a ditch to shelters where they could be adopted. That mission of mercy grew into a volunteer-driven 501(c)(3) aviation organization that transports animals at risk. So far this year, volunteers have flown more than 53 missions covering 62,519 miles. Their goal is to save 1,000 fur-bearing souls by transporting them to shelters this year.
The organization also hopes to raise money to purchase a Caravan — a super-sized Cessna that will allow them to dramatically increase the number of animals on freedom flights.
A founder of Pilots to the Rescue reached out to Lindheim on the strength of her social media presence, and she began helping with marketing. She was immediately sold on the mission herself.
Lindheim flew her first rescue flight in 2021. On one of her early and memorable flights, she was the co-pilot for a rescue that started in New Jersey and ended in Georgia. They rescued 12 dogs (including puppies Shadow, Miller, Hercules, Danny and Shay) and 16 cats (including kittens Big Boy, Betty Boop, Lucille, Pep, Joy, Spunky, Legion, Misty, Rita and Kris). After a 10-hour, 845-mile flight and one refueling stop, the crew was met by shelter volunteers who gave each furry passenger a chance for a new future as part of a family.
On rescue flights, Lindheim flies the organization’s Piper Saratoga. “We take as many as we can safely fit,” she says, admitting that the toughest part of the experience is often being forced to leave some animals behind. Cruising altitude is a little lower for these “pawsengers” and pilots minimize the rate of climbs and descents to keep the animals comfortable. “Crated or leashed cats and dogs are pretty chill passengers. We just fly a little bit lower than we would with people, and they get sleepy from the sound of the engine.”
An animal lover since childhood, Lindheim grew up on a farm in Orlando. She considered following her sister into medicine, but a neighbor who flew for Delta Air Lines helped sell her on a career in aviation and pointed her to Embry-Riddle.
Her campus tour and discovery flight convinced her 100% that aviation was for her. “Everything I was told about the school and a career in aviation was true. I’m very happy with how it has all turned out,” she says.
She went on to earn her commercial license, Certified Flight Instructor license, multi-engine rating and single-pilot type rating for the Citation 525 series. As a student, a corporate aviation course opened her eyes to options beyond the airlines. Eventually she went to work for Textron Aviation, selling brand-new Cessna and Beechcraft piston aircraft and working as a factory demo pilot.
Working for Lone Mountain Aircraft, selling turbine and piston aircraft is Lindheim’s day job. Her first plane was a CubCrafter, but she has a soft spot for Cessnas, especially the Skylane. A vintage 1957 Cessna 182 Skylane is the family plane now.
“For a small single-engine plane, it does everything really well — decent speeds, carrying capacity and space make it perfect for me. It’s not the fastest plane, and it can’t hold the most. It doesn’t have the most power, but what it does, it does really well.”
She is not the Skylane’s only pilot. She taught her husband Kevin Lindheim (’14), an air traffic management graduate, to fly. Together, they share airborne adventures through Chasin’ Tailwinds, their YouTube aviation and travel channel. It is just the two of them. No pets.
“We travel too much, but we plan to get a dog eventually.” Until then, a puppy fix is probably as close as her next rescue flight.