Edina native Mike Mulheran remembers learning to fly before he could drive, taking his first flying lessons at 15.
Those lessons would prove vital when he became a pilot for the stars. Now that Mulheran has made a career transition, he’s had a chance to reflect on his time whisking celebrities across the Western Hemisphere.
Despite the glamour that awaited him in the skies, aviation wasn’t the career path Mulheran initially envisioned. “I just had a passion to fly, and I never really thought of it as a career choice. I just wanted to fly for enjoyment,” he said. Flying ran in his blood – his father served as Northwest pilot for 35 years and his grandfather flew in World War II.
But after receiving his pilot’s license at the age of 17, he decided to continue obtaining various aviation certifications – including multi-engine, commercial, and airline transport licenses – before pursuing a professional flying career.
Mulheran first worked as a pilot for a charter airline in Florida, where a typical day, he said, entailed flying renowned guests – including Martha Stewart, Richard Branson, and Mulheran’s personal favorite, former basketball star Shaquille O’Neal. He mentioned that O’Neal always remembered him from previous flights and was extremely outgoing and friendly. While once flying Harry Connick Jr. to a sporting event to sing the national anthem, he heard the singer preparing for the appearance from the back of the plane, Mulheran recounted. As a lifelong hockey fan, he said he especially enjoyed meeting Wayne Gretzky.
“The funny part about celebrities is you see people on TV, and you think they might be a certain way and then you meet them and they’re not like that. There’s their TV persona, and then their real-life persona,” Mulheran said.
Sometimes, he was flying 15 days in a row, with three to four trips a day, traveling all over North America, the Caribbean and Central America. “(Flying) is a great way to see different parts of the world,” Mulheran said.
However, the 14-hour days, bad weather and constantly shifting time zones led to the pilot’s decision to exit his aviation career. With four kids at home, Mulheran wanted to spend more time with family.
“Flying is kind of a passion,” he said, “at the end of the day pilots love to fly, so that is usually the thing that makes people keep going and keep wanting to do it. And that’s what makes it enjoyable, that you’re doing something that you love. It’s just hard to do it when it gets to a certain point.”
Now, Mulheran runs Creative Colors International – a leather and vinyl restoration franchise based in Moneka, Illinois, that he opened in Minnesota in 2015. Although Mulheran now lives in Tennessee, he continues to own and operate three franchise territories around the Twin Cities.
And although this career path may seem entirely different from his work as a pilot, he likens the process of learning about vinyl and leather to the hours he spent in the cockpit when learning to fly.
“I just had to keep doing it over and over and the repetition is what makes you better, and gets you to that point where, you know, you can succeed at it,” Mulheran said. His career switch didn’t come without hesitation. His first Corvette seat repair job took over eight hours to color – a repair that would take him just a half-hour now.
His advice for those looking to make the career switch? Take the leap of faith.
“What do you want to do? Like, what is it that gets you excited, what are you passionate about. … That’s the biggest thing with me. It just takes the leap of faith. And explore, to see what’s out there,” Mulheran said.
Although his flying career may be on hold, his love for aviation persists. “I don’t feel like aviation is gone forever for me at all. I mean, I still have a deep passion for it. I just haven’t had the time to incorporate it into my daily life right now. But I would love to, at some point, go back.”