He’s been called the “super repo man” and once starred in the first season of a Discovery Channel reality show called Airplane Repo. He is an “aircraft repossession specialist” who never finished college but who has a net worth of more than $2 million, drives a Bentley, chain smokes cigars, and owns the oldest aircraft repossession service in the world. He chose to follow only one piece of the advice that his father gave him, and got his pilot certificate at the age of 16 — being a pilot “might come in handy,” his father said.

For Nick Popovich, it all started when a bank loaned a company enough cash to buy a couple of Boeing 747s. The new owner, it seemed, had stopped making payments, and stopped maintaining the jumbos. Some of the bankers knew Popovich and asked if he’d like to take part in a little adventure.

Popovich tracked the airplanes to an airport in Asia, rounded up a couple of crews, and headed east. He explained to airline employees that they were there to perform a typical inspection, so they were allowed to make sure both 747s were airworthy; they fueled them up, fired up the engines, and filed flight plans to Australia. “By the time they figured it out we were gone,” Popovich says. From Australia they flew to Mojave, where the bank had prearranged storage, and Popovich collected his check. “That paid a lot more than I expected,” he says. “I decided there was a business there.”