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August 13, 2014

Up Close and Personal with the Cast of Airplane Repo

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Written by: Sarina Houston & Eric Auxier
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Standing in a tight circle in front of the press headquarters tent at EAA AirVenture in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, the cast of Discovery Channel’s Airplane Repo looked like they could be casing the joint for an escape route in case they needed to repossess an airplane or two. But the group wasn’t about to spend the week stealing airplanes – they were at Oshkosh to have fun and to meet their fans. Earlier in the week repo man Ken Cage had reassured everyone of this by tweeting about his Oshkosh intentions:

ken cage tweet

And that’s not the only thing they’ve been tweeting about. Cage and the rest of the group have been very active on social media lately, using Twitter and Facebook to try to gain fan momentum for season two of Airplane Repo, which until July 25th had an uncertain future. After a short (failed?) three-episode run in 2010 with repo man Nick Popovich, who’s no longer on the show, Airplane Repo returned last year, drawing quick criticism from the audience for possibly being staged. But for every skeptic the show may have, it has a few more fans, and Discovery announced on July 25 that season two would premiere on August 22 at 10 pm EST.

While aircraft owners at Oshkosh may have been intentionally avoiding eye contact with Airplane Repo guys Kevin Lacey, Ken Cage, Danny Thompson and Mike Kennedy, NYCAviation tracked them down to get the scoop about the show’s upcoming season. What we discovered was a group of guys – and a gal – who might be all-business on camera, but are just aviation enthusiasts like the rest of us off camera.

Interview with the Stars of TV’s “Airplane Repo!” from Capnaux on Vimeo.

Airplane Repo takes viewers into the lives of aircraft repo experts as they repossess high-dollar aircraft from the rich and famous. The cast of season two includes the dynamic duo of Ken Cage and Danny Thompson, two experienced experts with over 1,500 repos to date, and daredevil Mike Kennedy, who is known for pushing his aircraft – and luck – to the limit. Cowboy Kevin Lacey is also back this season, and he’s recruited female apprentice and stunt pilot Heather Sterzick to help him out.

While critics say Airplane Repo is overly dramatized, the cast assures us that what you see is real – and perfectly legal. Breaking into airports and stealing aircraft is what these guys do, if that’s what’s required of them to get the plane back where it belongs – usually, the bank.

Oshkosh3 046Sarah Morgan, a Discovery Channel spokesperson, confirms the cast’s explanation. “Given the fast-paced and dangerous nature of this line of work, often our repo men (and now, women!) find themselves in tough situations. In order to protect them and debtors/property, key identifying information has been changed and select dramatizations employed.”

“I’ll get an assignment from a bank or from an attorney, saying that someone is past due on their payments,” Cage, president and co-owner of International Recovery Group, said about the repossession process. “Then we start the investigation process. Once we think we know where it is, we start heading out to the field with a pilot. Sometimes we just walk through the door, and sometimes we have to use more creative methods.”

About eighty-five percent of airplane repos are drama-free, according to Kevin Lacey. The others? Well, that’s where the show comes in. “The others are playing cops and robbers, hide and seek, with you. Sneaking in to grab the airplane is a method we’ve had to come up with because [the owner] can run straight down the street to the courthouse if they see you coming and they’ll file bankruptcy, and then they’ll get a restraining order…and you’re dead in the water,” Lacey said. “So we track it down and we swipe it.” And when the aircraft owner does know they’re coming, sometimes they’ll take it upon themselves to destroy the airplane or the logbooks. “I’ve had engines disappear, [and] I’ve had pilots try to hold records ransom.”

Airplane Repo's Kevin Lacey (Photo courtesy of Discovery Channel)

Airplane Repo’s Kevin Lacey (Photo courtesy of Discovery Channel)

As to the legalities of it all, Lacey says that different states have different rules, but that yes – the recovery strategies used are perfectly legal. “There are some tactics that you have to come up with; sometimes, I wait until [an aircraft] leaves the state and then I chase it,” said Lacey.

When asked whether the show was staged or not, Lacey didn’t hesitate, “Listen, I really do swipe airplanes for a living. But the most rewarding part of it all is the fact that I’ve, for some reason, become a role model for kids. They come out of the woodwork to ask me questions.”

“Airplane Repo’s first season averaged over 1 million viewers per episode, and was a top-ten cable program among men,” said Morgan.

Lacey says that kids and parents are often intimidated by airports these days, and he likes helping them get through to the other side of the fence. “Looking back, where we used to ride our bicycles inside the airport, nowadays [kids] are greeted with no trespassing signs. The most rewarding part is being able to help those youngsters find their way into the airport and into flying lessons.”

At the end of the day, Lacey says, they’re just aviators like the rest of us. In his off time, he’s built an RV-7, owns a Taylorcraft and flew to Oshkosh in a Piper Twin Comanche. Sterzick, a stunt pilot, started flying as a kid, made her way through the military and works as an airport manager. She was recently named President of the Oklahoma chapter of the Ninety-Nines, an organization of women pilots.

Airplane Repo's Mike Kennedy (Photo courtesy of Discovery Channel)

Airplane Repo’s Mike Kennedy (Photo courtesy of Discovery Channel)

And as for Mike Kennedy, well, he’s flown a lot of airplanes, most just once or twice while repossessing them. “I kind of lost track years ago, but I’ve got a lot of hours and most of it’s an hour here or an hour there. You don’t know how many times I’ve shown up to take an airplane and I don’t even know how to open the door. “

An ATP with multiple jet type ratings, Kennedy is known for being the daredevil of the group. He once spent five days in a Mexican prison after stealing a Piper Malibu from the Honduran Air Force, only to have the electrical system fail at night over the ocean. “I landed in Cozumel without talking to anybody because I had no radios…I didn’t even know if I could get the wheels down when I got there. I ended up in a Mexican jail for five days. The American Consulate had to help me get out,” Kennedy said.

And he’s not the only one who has had run-ins with the law. “They have custom fit bracelets for me over at the cop shop,” Lacey said.

See the excitement for yourself when season two premieres on Friday, August 22 at 10 pm EST. Let us know in the comments what you think!

Sarina Houston is NYC Aviation’s assignment editor, and also writes extensively about aviation for About.com. Contact her on Twitter.

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Sarina Houston & Eric Auxier



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  • barbeeyorkielover

    I am so glad that the Airplane Repos will be back for another season. I never miss a show. Have a great season and be safe guys.

  • Jocko Johnson

    Of course this show is staged.

  • AirDragon

    I think that certain (short) portions might be slightly modified, but as a former repo man during the 80’s, a couple of airplane repos in foreign countries would be looked at by the public as staged, but I can tell you now….as a retired airline captain, I have to sit back and laugh at my repo career and say…”wow…did that really happen?” “Or was I just young and crazy?” Very bizarre things happen and like a movie, it just boggles the mind that (we) got past military, police, and control tower people and stole planes for companies like Cessna Finance Corporation and Lloyds of London insurance companies.

  • AirDragon

    Also…I think I knew Mike Kennedy (maybe a different name in the 80’s) during my days at Opa-Locka Airport. He is by far incredibly good and it’s difficult to which one of the three I am impressed with the most, but Kevin runs a close second. I would have definitely hired them during the 80’s to help us grab some interesting repos that nearly killed some of us.

  • Jacqueline

    I’m an aviation enthusiast & I really like the show airplane repo except that guy ken cage! Number 1 he isn’t a pilot so he should be automatically excluded from being on a show about aviation. I take aviation seriously & anytime anyone takes a non-stop flight they should stand up and say “THANK YOU HOWARD HUGHES” I find this guy Ken Cage extremely bossy, uneducated and down right trashy. A lot of the fans say the show is fake, I can tell you with 100% conviction that is because of Ken Cage. He is a big exaggerator, compulsive pathological liar and big story teller! I have a serious problem with the way ken Cage does things. He get happy & excited because of some eles misfortune. I say that because why would he be happy that some one is having financial difficulties when this country is just coming out of one of the worse economic times since the great depression. That is upsetting! Ken Cage purposely has face to face conflict with the owners of the airplanes, therefore degrading them and embarrassing them on national tv! Ken Cage is so set on embarrassing the owners that are losing there airplanes that he hired a person security guard Danny Thompson. This has lead to physical violence on this show. This is very disturbing to me that any of there advitisers would support this show with Ken Cage being on there. Ken Cage’s non ability to fly airplanes is a huge contributor to him having multiple face to face conflict with the owners of the airplanes. The other guys on the show are all extremely talented aviators and I have the up-most respect for them. They sneak in and fly the planes out 98% of the time without any interaction with the owners! I have wrote discovery channel about this. I also will be writing the CEO’s of all of their advertisers and ask why they would support a person like Ken Cage.

    • Judy Prause

      I personally like everyone on the show. You seem to have a problem with people in authority. He is the CEO of his company and has the intelligence to make money and get the job done. If you don’t like watching this program TURN the channel but let the rest of us enjoy it.

  • windyblue

    I like the show a lot. Kevin is great. And a bit funny at times. Airplanes are always girls. With girl names never men. Heather she needs to learn to keep her big mouth shut. Never ask a person about marriage, or divorce. And Kevin put her in her place. Good Kevin she deserved it. he may have taking her under his wing to show her the business but she had better watch her step. And learn to listen and do as he says. Oh, yea learn to show up on time to work too. Being a repo man is dangerous, people now days will kill you, for trying to take there property.
    I do hope Kevin old boss, whom he took 2 planes from spent much time in jail or is still there. I hope Kevin takes his boat, car, and house. too. I am glad the rich is finally getting there planes, boats taking from them they consider them toys.
    It is about time they paid for it, Not paying there bills, on the things. I got one car repossessed back in the 80’s it was horrible, but I do not blame the repo man. nor the bank the SUV the payments where way to high and WE were on very hard times. I do like airplanes but have a terrible fear of heights. Stay safe Kevin .

  • isk 82

    Prior to what appears to be a”nepotistic” addition of Heather Sterzick to the cast of Airplane Repo, I would have said Kevin Lacey’s credentials always appeared stellar to the audience. In fact, I would have said Kevin Lacey could have “swiped the Milleneum Falcon from Han Solo and actually gotten paid by Jabba the Hut,” I seriously doubt Heather Sterzick could switch on a light sabre. Just goes to show you egotistical old men, especially air jocks will throw away years of credibility for a pretty face. For a show that has been struggling until this year, her addition to the cast brings some serious flaws to the action . . . hate to see it . In fact, her lack of credentials contributes to the lack of believability of the show.

    • Jacqueline

      isk82 Lmfao – WoW! You are one pitiful, pathetic, overwhelmingly jealous hater! U really are embarrassing yourself by posting this! Heather is one bad-ass sexy female soldier! Extremely talented young girl with top of the line credentials! The United States Military trained her 2b a pilot! Heather can fly fighter jets, on top of many more of her accomplishments! Heather definitely has more skills & credentials then that little, short, fat guy Ken Cage that tries to boss everyone around swearing at everyone all the time because he has zero communication skills with a 7th grade education! His ignorance, lack of education, no knowledge, no credentials shines threw very bright via the dumb decisions he makes! He spends more money then he makes trying to get these airplanes because he doesn’t know what he is doing & he can’t fly them! Zero aviation ability! Nothing! Not even a single engine plane! Not even a tinker toy plane! He makes a complete & utter fool out of himself on national television but is so clueless he doesn’t realize it. He actually thinks he looks cool but in reality he is an epic fail! He is constantly getting his ass kicked! Chronically, from his inability 2 make the right decision! This lil boy got his a** kicked so many times trying to take someone’s airplane bcuz the owner showed up & he had no where to run to, he couldn’t fly the plane so he got destroyed!. Ken Cage got so scared & so desperate from getting his ass kicked so many times he resorted to paying another man to protect him! What man at his age is not capable of protecting or taking care of themselves? Had to resort to spending money and having another man do his job! Can’t tell him nothing cuz he thinks he knows everything but is an epic fail his entire life! Ken Cage is so unlikable he gets his ass kicked on a regular basis! Chronically getting a beating! He is a pathetic excuse for a man, he isn’t capably of protecting himself or his wife & family! Hope they know they can’t depend on Dad! Heather puts ken to complete & utter shame! Absolute humiliation that a girl half his age can do his job 10x’s better then him & you’re claiming her credentials aren’t what? You better ask somebody!!!

      • leftists suck

        While Heather’s credentials are impressive for her age, she was not trained by the military to be a pilot. Stop posting shit you haven’t a freaking clue about. Some people’s kids!

        • Judy Prause

          Jacqueline, you must really hate someone like Ken in your life. Heather is a decent but untried pilot in these situations you need experience, not only as a pilot but as a decision maker which Ken is. I personally like Kevin, he is a talented pilot, funny, and knows what he is doing.

  • AZWizard

    If I had to fly with Kevin or Heather, I think Heather would be my choice …Now, if it was an amergency situation that of course would change …

  • windyblue

    If I had to choose between Heather and Kevin, no doubt It would be Kevin in a heart beat to get into a plane with. Heather I do not have stupid written across my forehead. But I would like to know more about Kevin. He seems to be more the very private type though. People are crazy today and doing repo’s well NOT for me but the crap they go through to get the planes and cars, and boats they deserve the money. They are lucky to be alive yet. Now Ken Cage that man to me is one great big IDIOT, Seems he has NO clue how to do anything except rely on Danny with out him the man is more like a little girl. I do hope one day they go after the Billionaires’ toys soon. Love to see Kevin repo a 29 million dollar plane that would be a great payday.

  • themanwiththeplan

    I don’t know a single thing about an airplane, but I’m not buying the airplane repo show is real. For multiple reasons, one, why not just show up with the cops and a repo order? Two, I find it difficult to beleive anybody could gain access to a secure airport,much less the hanger, three on top of that at times they use the airport equipment to pull the plane around, maybe have to fuel it up. Too far fetched for me. Maybe, this show is not quite as far fetched as Alaska Bush People
    maybe they could combined the two shows, have Repo men taking possesion of shacks in the boonies of Alaska, or the Browns flying planes too? Any suggestions?

  • fred

    Having had Ann airplane repossess from the company I worked for, I can tell you that this show is completely stated. When they tell an airplane, the bank rep shows up with a chain, a padlock and a policeman! They chain the aircraft to a tie down. Or the put the chain around the propeller.

    They don’t steal airplanes! They show up with the finance companies paper work and diesel the airplane! The show is bogus!