Ellen goes undercover.

I’m currently working on a stand-alone mystery where the protagonist is a private pilot, which necessitated research into the world of private aviation. I did an online search and located a few companies at nearby airports, then called them and explained I needed information for a mystery I was writing. And…. nada. No one would talk to me. The one-percenters will be happy to know that their mile-high secrets are in the hands of some very tight-lipped aviation pros.

After a few frustrating days, I decided it was time to activate my dormant acting chops and go undercover. I figured the private aviation industry would be way more receptive to a woman of a certain age looking to spend thousands of dollars in jet rental fees than to an author making calls from her home office in her bathrobe. I located a company that operated out of the Burbank Airport facilities. Then I picked out an outfit that might sell I was affluent enough to fly private. Considering my wardrobe is that of a writer, this was the toughest part and frankly, I barely pulled it off. (Note to self: buy Spanx.)


I washed my car, figuring a clean Honda Civic was slightly more impressive than a dirty one. I hoped no one in the elite world of private travel checked out my social media presence and saw this Facebook  post: “The dollar store makes me feel like a billionaire!”

I got to the facility, which looked like – well, you can read the description when my book is published. (How’s that for optimism?)  I shared the cover story I’d concocted with the woman behind the counter: a few friends and I are going to a college reunion and thought it would be fun to arrive by private  jet. The most effective lies are based on a kernel of truth – I did have a reunion coming up, and who wouldn’t want to show up to one of those in a private jet? The subtext of this story was that we were obnoxious alum looking to flaunt our success in our fellow alum’s faces – something pretty easy to buy.

It turned out this particular facility was what they call a FBO – a Fixed Base Operation – which is basically just a fancy-shmancy terminal. But people are super nice when you say you’re interested in chartering a jet, and they gave me a list of contact numbers.

I called one company and once again shared my story.  They quickly coughed up some price quotes. The $46,000 Gulfstream was clearly out. Too big and too pricey.  Jessica,  my new friend at Richie Rich Air, offered a Cessna Citation V for $26,000 as an alternative. This sounded great until she shared two caveats. The Citation would require a stop to refuel in El Paso, and the lavatory would have to double as a seat if we wanted to squeeze in another passenger. Uh, hello, spending $26k to refuel in El Pass-over, as my more snobby imaginary friends call it? I don’t THINK so. And as I told  Jessica, “I can’t imagine one of my alum mates paying thousands of dollars to sit in the jahn!” She agreed, and we both had a chuckle over this. I sadly bid her goodbye, and continued my search.

I finally found the perfect plane for my private pilot to fly, the Hawker 800XP.

By the end of my undercover mission, I was so convinced of my own story that I found myself trying to crunch the numbers to see if I might actually talk some reunion attendees into renting the Hawker for a mere $36,000. It was a pipe dream, of course. But now I see how O.J. convinced himself he didn’t kill Ron and Nicole.

You start to believe your own lies.

Readers, have you ever gone undercover or told an impressive lie?

31 thoughts on “Ellen goes undercover.

  1. Now I know I will never rent a private plane. Thanks for doing the leg work for me.

    Seriously, fun story. Thanks for sharing. Can’t wait to see how the research gets worked into your book.

    Liked by 4 people

  2. What a fun story! You got to research two things for the price of one: private aircraft, and what it’s like to go undercover. Now I want to go undercover! Hmmmm…. newly engaged bride looking for a reception site? No, wait, let’s make that a cake tasting…

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Ellen, how brave you are — you’re my hero! In Reno, at LCC, maybe you could pretend to be a high roller and get a VIP suite! (And, of course, invite all the Chicks up for free champagne!) BTW, congrats again on your Lefty nomination!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. OMG, I should totally do that! But I can only go big lie-wise if there’s a hint of truth to it, and since the only time I’ve ever gambled in my life was putting $5 on a race at Churchill Downs, that might be tough. Let me work on it.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Great story. That took guts.
    Hmm. I have to tell the truth for a living. I can play dumb, but that’s about it. That’s kind of sucks.
    But I can tell you I understand the problem you had, and what you went through to get it. I was in Vegas to talk to people about cheating at the casinos. Everyone told me that doesn’t happen. Yeah right. There’s no casino banning people for questionable actions. And there are hundreds of honest politicians.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Ooh, Hestia, now I want to know what you do for a living. But it must be hard to get people to tell the truth about questionable activities, especially these days when the laws protecting whistle blowers are getting weakened.


  5. Great story – although I can’t believe the private jet industry is more tight-lipped than your average police officer (all the cops I’ve ever told, “Hey, I’m a writer and I want to know…” have been more than happy to talk my ear off).

    I’ve never gone undercover, but now I’m thinking I have to.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Great post and great story! Very impressive, Ellen – this is the kind of thing I always like to imagine authors are doing on a regular basis (as needed, of course) – I love that you went to the source and got the real story instead of attempting to make something up where having the right details is important! Hats off to you.


  7. I love the ingenuity of your prep work, Ellen!, I had to “Go undercover” for work. A hooker sting is not nearly as glamorous as they make it out to be on television… Drug stings are even worse. By the way, if we can find about another hundred gals, I’m in on the plane! But most importantly, CONGRATULATIONS on your Lefty nomination!


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