Gyrocopter Pilot On His 'Incredible' Flight Onto Capitol Lawn : It's All Politics Doug Hughes flew into Washington, D.C., on something resembling a hybrid bicycle and helicopter. He did it to protest money in politics, but he could face up to a decade in prison. He has no regrets.
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Gyrocopter Pilot On His 'Incredible' Flight Onto Capitol Lawn

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Gyrocopter Pilot On His 'Incredible' Flight Onto Capitol Lawn

Gyrocopter Pilot On His 'Incredible' Flight Onto Capitol Lawn

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

We're going to hear now from a man who got himself into trouble while trying to get some attention. His name is Doug Hughes, a mailman from Florida, who, last month, landed a gyrocopter on the lawn of the U.S. Capitol.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

That got him indicted by a federal grand jury on charges ranging from flying without a pilot certificate to violating national defense airspace to operating a, quote, "vehicle falsely labeled as a postal carrier." His copter had some of the markings you'd see on a mail truck.

MONTAGNE: Well, yesterday he plead not guilty. Before his appearance in court, Hughes spoke with NPR's Peter Overby.

PETER OVERBY, BYLINE: If you've ever been dazzled by the National Mall, with the Lincoln Memorial, Washington Monument and everything, just imagine seeing it from above.

DOUG HUGHES: It was incredible.

OVERBY: Doug Hughes was flying along the Mall on his gyrocopter. It's a one-seat open aircraft, a little like a really under-powered helicopter. He'd started in Gettysburg, Pa. Now, people were waving at him, taking pictures. He passed the Washington Monument. The next things in front of him were a pool, a cluster of statues and the Capitol.

HUGHES: I said, OK, you got to put all of the distractions aside - this is a landing.

OVERBY: He saw a clear patch of land close to the Capitol.

HUGHES: So I actually gunned it up a little bit, climbed, went over the pool, kind of around the monument, throttled it back and set it down on the sloped grass right in front of the building.

OVERBY: Just to state the obvious here...

HUGHES: I knew I'd be taken into custody.

OVERBY: Police confiscated the gyrocopter, also, stamped letters he brought for 535 members of the House and Senate, calling on them to put their voters ahead of their big donors. But most of the reaction was like this, a hearing of the House Oversight Committee.

(SOUNDBITE OF HEARING)

REPRESENTATIVE JASON CHAFFETZ: Let's address why we're here today - the gyrocopter incident.

OVERBY: Chairman Jason Chaffetz demanded to know how Hughes literally had slipped in under the radar. Keep in mind, a lot of people who were at the Capitol on September 11, 2001 believe they're lucky to be alive. Washington's air defenses are supposed to be ironclad now, and yet, as Chaffetz put it...

(SOUNDBITE OF HEARING)

CHAFFETZ: We had some yahoo in a gyrocopter land right over there.

OVERBY: Hughes said in the interview that lawmakers want to bury his issue.

HUGHES: Congress does not want to talk about why I flew, OK? The inside the beltway media, OK, will not ask Congress the hard questions about why I flew.

OVERBY: There are problems, he said, but also solutions.

HUGHES: The people created the Congress, OK? This government is our invention and we still have the power, but we just got to get together and recognize that this is the first thing we have to do.

OVERBY: Hughes is 61 years old. Now, at least theoretically, he's facing nine and a half years in prison. Meanwhile, he's getting letters and emails.

HUGHES: One guy said he would've shot me down if he'd had the choice, but, here's a check for your legal defense.

OVERBY: The letters cheer Hughes's call for reforms, such as a constitutional amendment breaking the link between free speech and corporate spending in politics. But the constitutional amendment strategy wouldn't necessarily work. Heather Gerken specializes in constitutional law at Yale Law School.

HEATHER GERKEN: The reason why people are thinking a constitutional amendment is a good idea is largely because they can't get anything passed through state legislatures or our Congress. And of course, state legislature and Congress are the places you need to go to get the constitutional amendment passed.

OVERBY: Yesterday after Doug Hughes entered his not guilty plea, he spoke with reporters outside the courthouse. He called his act civil disobedience and he said he's open to a plea deal.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

HUGHES: I've always been concerned that I might spend time behind bars, and I'm not eager for jail time. On the other hand, I took responsibility for what I did.

OVERBY: Hughes has another court hearing next week. Till then he's barred from coming back to Washington, D.C., and he cannot pilot any aircraft. Peter Overby, NPR News, Washington.

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