Florida Man Who Landed a Gyrocopter on the Capitol Lawn Denies Almost Hitting a Delta Flight

Member of the bomb squad and a bomb squad robot approach the gyrocopter (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

Remember the Florida man who landed his gyrocopter on the lawn of the US Capitol last year? The retired US postal worker pulled the stunt to raise awareness about campaign finance reform. Now prosecutors are saying that he came dangerously close to hitting a Delta flight.

The gyrocopter pilot, Douglas Hughes, will be sentenced next month and prosecutors are now saying that he came within 1,400 yards of Delta Flight 1639, an Airbus jet that departed from Reagan National Airport and was carrying 150 passengers. Hughes denies he was that close.


Douglas Hughes landed on the US Capitol lawn last year on April 15th (tax day) after flying through restricted airspace. Hughes said he intended to deliver Congress letters about campaign finance reform. Needless to say, he didn’t get to deliver the letters, but he did raise quite a stir about security around the Capitol building.

Fourteen football fields may not seem that close, but prosecutors say that aircraft must be separated by 3,000 yards.

“If the gyrocopter had drifted slightly west, or the airline had taken a slightly more easterly path, a collision could have occurred,” prosecutors said.

But Hughes insists that he didn’t even come close to the Delta flight. And he might be right. Last May, US Capitol police chief Kim Dine, who submitted a letter of resignation just five days before the incident, testified that the Delta plane took off at 12:58pm. That would be about 25 minutes before Douglas landed and would mean that his gyrocopter was well out of US Capitol airspace by the time Hughes was there.


“I was there. It didn’t happen,” Hughes told the Washington Post. “They said I flew within 1,500 yards. I wasn’t within 30 miles of it.”

Prosecutors are asking for a 10 month prison sentence. Attorneys for Hughes are asking for time served.


Whether Hughes serves time or not, he has promised to obey the law the next time he wants to make a political protest. In fact, he insists that he plans to challenge Democratic Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz for her 23rd Congressional District seat in Florida.

Douglas Hughes at a May 21, 205 news conference (Photo by Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

[Washington Post and NBC News]

Contact the author at novak@gizmodo.com.


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