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Gyrocopter lands on US Capitol's west lawn

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Douglas Mark Hughes, a mailman for the United States Postal Service, landed his gyrocopter on the west lawn of the US Capitol on Wednesday. He told his friends he was going to do this.

File photo of a gyrocopter.

The mailman was flying his aircraft into restricted airspace when he landed on the lawn. He was immediately arrested. His stated intention was to deliver letters to all members of Congress concerning campaign finance statutes. As a protective measure, the Capitol complex went on lockdown for a time.

Hughes told the Tampa Bay Times of his intentions to fly the light-weight aircraft. The paper said they alerted the Secret Service and the United States Capitol Police, but FOX News reported some disagreement about this from Capitol Police. Hughes had no contact with air traffic controllers during the incident.

The mailman said his intention was non-violent, but he wanted to spread the word about his cause. The Secret Service questioned him some months before the incident.

Hughes was charged under United States Code Title 49, concerning transportation. He was released from jail under conditions including that he must not visit the US Capitol. He is currently under house arrest.

Besides this low-flying aircraft incident, a government employee crashed a drone onto the White House property a few months ago. Also, the Secret Service conducted drone exercises to combat against possibly rogue light-weight aircraft last month.

The airspace above the Washington D.C. region is protected below 18,000 feet MSL (Mean Sea Level) with the roughly fifteen-nautical-mile-radius Flight Restricted Zone which surrounds the VHF omnidirectional range located at Washington National Airport, which handles regularly scheduled commercial flights. Pilots are not allowed to fly in the Washington, DC Metropolitan Area Special Flight Rules Area, which includes the Flight Restricted Zone, unless they have FAA authorization and are able to maintain effective communication with air traffic control with a two-way radio. Pilots must obtain a transponder code when flying under visual flight rules in this area. Law enforcement and air ambulance operations are exempted from the FAA authorization requirement if they can maintain communications with air traffic control.

The FAA was investigating this incident, along with law enforcement agencies. Police found no explosives in the aircraft.


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