Capitol Hill Gyrocopter Pilot Gets Four Months In Prison

An ultralight sentence

On April 15th, 2015, a strange aircraft flew through the sky over Washington, DC. In a gyrocopter brought from his home in Ruskin, Florida, Douglas Hughes landed on the lawn of the Capitol building, carrying a mailbag full of letters on a mission to protest campaign finance reform. Hughes, a retired postal worker, was immediately apprehended. Today, he received his sentence for the crime.

Hughes will get 120 days in jail for violating Washington’s no fly zone, followed by a year of supervised release afterwards. He also has to give up his gyrocopter.

One of the stranger parts of the whole incident, which is plenty strange, is that air defense radars didn’t notice Hughes flying up the Potomac. In testimony, aviation and Navy officials said that Hughes’ small craft appeared on radar like a weather system or a flock of birds. As good as radar is at tracking planes, it has a hard time with small, light objects. That means there’s a gap in American aerial defenses, which could be exploited by gyrocopters.

Kelsey D. Atherton
Kelsey D. Atherton

Kelsey D. Atherton is a defense technology journalist based in Albuquerque, New Mexico. His work on drones, lethal AI, and nuclear weapons has appeared in Slate, The New York Times, Foreign Policy, and elsewhere.