Florida Man Pleads Guilty to Felony Charge For Flying Gyrocopter to U.S. Capitol Grounds
Unlicensed Pilot Flew Through Three No-Fly Zones
WASHINGTON – Douglas Hughes, 62, of Ruskin, Fla., pled guilty today to a federal charge stemming from the April 15, 2015 incident in which he flew a gyrocopter into Washington, D.C., and landed on the Front Lawn of the Capitol, announced U.S. Attorney Channing D. Phillips, Kim C. Dine, Chief of the United States Capitol Police, and David C. Williams, Inspector General for the United States Postal Service.
Hughes pled guilty in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia to a charge of operating as an airman without an airman’s certificate. The charge is a felony that carries a statutory maximum of three years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000. The Honorable Colleen Kollar-Kotelly scheduled sentencing for April 13, 2016. As part of the plea agreement, Hughes has agreed to the forfeiture of his gyrocopter, which was seized on the day of the incident.
“Douglas Hughes put himself and countless others in danger when he flew his gyrocopter without a license into our country’s national defense airspace, and through the three no-fly zones protecting the nation’s capital,” said U.S. Attorney Phillips. “Douglas Hughes’s flight also caused a lockdown of the U.S. Capitol Building, and traffic delays in downtown Washington, D.C. With the defendant pleading guilty to the lead charge of his indictment, a felony, this prosecution will hopefully deter others from violating the highly restricted airspace surrounding Washington, D.C.”
According to the government’s evidence, on April 15, 2015, Hughes drove to the Gettysburg Regional Airport in Pennsylvania and unpacked his gyrocopter for a flight to Washington, D.C. Hughes had never had an airman’s certificate (pilot’s license) and he did not license his aircraft with the Federal Aviation Administration. Hughes also did not file a flight plan with the FAA or any other governmental agency, and he did not seek to obtain any official authorization before or during his flight. Hughes had modified his aircraft and placed a U.S. Postal Service insignia on it. Although Hughes worked for the U.S. Postal Service, and was wearing an agency jacket, he was not acting in any official capacity at the time.
Hughes placed two bins into the gyrocopter, carrying letters addressed to members of the U.S. Congress. He then flew the gyrocopter into Washington, D.C. from Gettysburg, Pa., passing through three no-fly zones. This federally restricted airspace includes, among other places, the National Mall, the White House, and the U.S. Capitol area.
Hughes flew over the National Mall and landed his gyrocopter in the early afternoon on the Front Lawn of the U.S. Capitol. He was quickly arrested, and the gyrocopter was seized as evidence. No weapons were found on Hughes or his aircraft.
A federal grand jury indicted Hughes on May 20, 2015, on a total of six charges. In return for pleading guilty to the lead count of the indictment, the U.S. Attorney’s Office has agreed to dismiss the remaining charges.
In announcing the plea, U.S. Attorney Phillips, Chief Dine, and Inspector General Williams commended the work of those who investigated the case from the U.S. Capitol Police and the Office of the Inspector General for the U.S. Postal Service. They also expressed appreciation for the assistance provided by the United States Park Police and the Federal Aviation Administration. Finally, they praised the work of those who handled the case for the U.S. Attorney’s Office, including Paralegal Specialists Devron Elliott and Michelle Holland; Legal Assistants Bianca Evans and Donice Adams, and Assistant U.S. Attorneys Tejpal S. Chawla and Michael J. Friedman, who investigated and prosecuted the case.