WASHINGTON – Police arrested a man who steered his tiny aircraft onto the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol after flying through restricted airspace around the National Mall Wednesday.
One congressional official identified the pilot as Doug Hughes, a Florida Postal Service worker who took responsibility for the stunt on a website where he said he was delivering letters to all 535 members of Congress to draw attention to campaign finance corruption. Public records showed that Hughes is 61 and lives in Ruskin, Florida.
Hughes flew to Washington from the vicinity of Gettysburg, which took about an hour, said Ben Montgomery, a reporter with the Tampa Bay Times. Montgomery said Hughes discussed his plan in advance with the newspaper, had meticulously plotted his flight and considered himself on a mission that was “sort of a mix of P.T. Barnum and Paul Revere.”
The Secret Service came to the Gettysburg Regional Airport on Wednesday afternoon to investigate, said Scott Miller, a spokesman for Harrisburg International Airport, which is run by the same airport authority.
At the Gettysburg airport Wednesday afternoon, there was a police presence around 5 p.m., but it was otherwise quiet.
Locals and tourists around the Gettysburg square Wednesday evening were mostly unaware that Hughes’s craft had originated just a little more than two miles away from them.
Jim Michaelson and Lauren Peterson, owners of The House of Time on the square, were unaware and unphased by news of Hughes’s stunt.
“Maybe he’s just trying to draw attention to an upcoming event here,” Peterson said with a laugh.
Others were more concerned with what they perceived to be a brash actions on Hughes’s part.
“It’s idiotic what he was complaining about,” said Shawn Mazza, who recently moved to Gettysburg. “All that effort is going to get him a year or two of jail, but it’s not worth it.”
Hughes wrote earlier on his website that he posed no threat.
“As I have informed the authorities, I have no violent inclinations or intent,” Hughes wrote on his website, thedemocracyclub.org. “An ultralight aircraft poses no major physical threat – it may present a political threat to graft. I hope so. There’s no need to worry – I’m just delivering the mail.”
The Senate aide said Capitol Police knew of the plan shortly before Hughes took off, and said he had previously been interviewed by the U.S. Secret Service. The aide spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss details of the investigation. Capitol Police declined to confirm the man’s identity.
Capitol Police identified the open-air aircraft, which sported the U.S. Postal Service logo and landed about half a city block from the Capitol building, as a “gyrocopter with a single occupant.” About two hours after the device had landed, police announced that a bomb squad had cleared it and nothing hazardous had been found. The authorities then moved it off the Capitol lawn to a secure location.
House Homeland Security panel Chairman Michael McCaul, R-Texas, said the pilot landed on his own, but authorities were prepared to shoot him down if he had made it much closer to the Capitol. “Had it gotten any closer to the speaker’s balcony they have long guns to take it down, but it didn’t. It landed right in front,” McCaul said.
The Federal Aviation Administration said the pilot had not been in contact with air traffic controllers and the FAA didn’t authorize him to enter restricted airspace.
Airspace security rules that cover the Capitol and the District of Columbia prohibit private aircraft.
Info about Gettysburg Regional Airport
• The Susquehanna Area Regional Airport Authority bought the Gettysburg Regional Airport for $1.4 million in August 2006, according to
newspaper records. The authority runs Harrisburg International, Capital City and Franklin County airports.
• The Gettysburg Regional Airport is located in Cumberland Township, just outside of Gettysburg, in Adams County, according to the airport’s website.
• The airport’s runway is 3,100 feet long and 60 feet wide, the airport’s website states.
• A partial taxiway on either side of the runway provides access to the hangar areas and fuel farm, according to the website.
• Landside facilities include four hangar units, 18,682 square feet of hangar space, the site states.