Man Who Landed Gyrocopter Near Capitol Building Indicted

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I’ve lived in Washington, DC for almost five years, and I’ve gotten used to pretty much any kind of disruption to my day because of security concerns. Whether it’s having to walk all the way around the White House complex due to it being shut down for security reasons, or not being able to cross the street because President Obama’s motorcade is coming through, minor interruptions to my day have become the norm. But last month, a man took even the most jaded DC residents, and the country, by surprise when he landed a gyrocopter in front of the U.S. Capitol Building. That man, Doug Hughes, was just indicted on six counts as a result of his misadventures, and could face a sentence of more than nine years in prison if found guilty.

Hughes is 61 and works as a mailman in Ruskin, Florida. He drove the gyrocopter up to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, then flew it to DC and landed it on the Capitol lawn. Hughes was completely aware that what he was doing was against the law; in fact, breaking the law was sort of the point, as it would allow him to attract attention and publicity for his cause. He was trying to deliver 535 letters (one for each member of Congress) to the Capitol building, protesting the power that big money plays in Washington politics. Hughes’ contraption looked like this:

The charges against Hughes include two felonies and four misdemeanors. One issue is that he didn’t have any sort of license to operate his “aircraft”–the felony charges are to that effect. The misdemeanor charges include three counts of violating national defense airspace, and for mislabeling his gyrocopter as a mail-delivery vehicle. Regardless of the jail time that Hughes is probably going to serve, he’s received quite a bit of attention for his message as a result of the stunt. When he came back to DC for his hearing, he was met by plenty of supporters. He appeared in the E. Barrett Prettyman Courthouse just a few blocks away from where he landed his gyrocopter this Spring, and pleaded not guilty to the charges. He doesn’t contest that he flew the gyrocopter onto the Capitol lawn, just that he caused no damage when he did so.

He also pledged to continue his fight against the influence of money in politics, and to continue to educate voters. Hughes stated:

Over time, the Congress, our Congress, has rewritten the rules to define an open marriage: They’re in bed with lobbyists, special interests, Wall Street and big banks. We are not asking, we are demanding that our government honor the vows of fidelity implicit in the Constitution…As long as I am free, I am going to keep introducing voters to solutions to the problems of corruption that the vast majority of voters recognize and oppose.

While Hughes certainly seems passionate about his cause, and did receive attention for the gyrocopter stunt, violating multiple laws really isn’t a great way to make a compelling argument for a cause, no matter how worthy the it is. Unfortunately for Hughes his actions, and the legal issues he’s going to have moving forward, probably won’t do much to advance his cause in the end.

Anneliese Mahoney
Anneliese Mahoney is Managing Editor at Law Street and a Connecticut transplant to Washington D.C. She has a Bachelor’s degree in International Affairs from the George Washington University, and a passion for law, politics, and social issues. Contact Anneliese at



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