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Press Release

Florida Man Sentenced to 120 Days in Jail For Flying Gyrocopter to U.S. Capitol Grounds

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, District of Columbia
Unlicensed Pilot Flew Through Three No-Fly Zones

            WASHINGTON – Douglas Hughes, 62, of Ruskin, Fla., was sentenced today to 120 days in jail on a federal charge stemming from the April 15, 2015, incident in which he flew a gyrocopter into Washington, D.C., and landed on the West Front lawn of the Capitol, announced U.S. Attorney Channing D. Phillips, Matthew R. Verderosa, Chief of the U.S. Capitol Police, and Tammy L. Whitcomb, Acting Inspector General for the United States Postal Service.

            Hughes pled guilty on Nov. 20, 2015, in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, to a felony charge of operating as an airman without an airman’s certificate. He was sentenced by the Honorable Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, who stated that his actions showed a “total lack of concern and disregard” for the safety of others. Following completion of his prison term, Hughes will be placed on one year of supervised release; during that time, he is to stay away from the U.S. Capitol and White House. Also, as part of his plea agreement, he agreed to the forfeiture of his gyrocopter, which was seized on the day of the incident.

            “Douglas Hughes intentionally violated one of the most secure and restricted airspaces in the world, placing himself and countless others at risk,” said U.S. Attorney Phillips. “His actions led to a lockdown of the U.S. Capitol, major traffic delays, and a diversion of law enforcement resources. Today’s sentence holds him accountable for his reckless acts and hopefully will deter others from attempting to violate the airspace surrounding Washington, D.C.”

            According to the government’s evidence, on the morning of 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 by replacing the original gas tank with a larger-ten-gallon tank to increase the gyrocopter’s range to reach Washington, D.C. He also was wearing a U.S. Postal Service jacket and his gyrocopter was affixed with a U.S. Postal Service seal. Although Hughes worked for the U.S. Postal Service, 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.

            As a result of the defendant’s actions, the entire U.S. Capitol complex was placed on lockdown, including the Capitol Visitor Center. In addition, streets around the U.S. Capitol were shut down, which resulted in traffic delays. Capitol Police deployed bomb squad technicians, explosives’ dogs, and robotic devices to examine the scene. It was only after the scene was cleared that the lockdown was lifted.

            In announcing the sentence, U.S. Attorney Phillips, Chief Verderosa, and Acting Inspector General Whitcomb 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.

Updated April 27, 2016

National Security
Press Release Number: 16-070