Gyrocopter Pilot Who Landed At U.S. Capitol Says He Has No Regrets

Douglas Hughes, 61, faces six federal charges for landing his gyrocopter on the Capitol lawn in April. After pleading not guilty Thursday, he told reporters that while he has no regrets, "I’ll never do anything like this again."

The Florida man who landed a gyrocopter on the lawn of the U.S. Capitol on Tax Day in April told reporters he has no regrets.

Douglas Hughes, 61, was indicted earlier in the week on six federal charges in connection with his stunt, which he says was meant to draw attention to the need for campaign finance reform.

After pleading not guilty to the charges Thursday, he told reporters that while he doesn't regret his actions, "I'll never do anything like this again."

He also advised others to refrain from similar stunts, acknowledging his luck in not being shot down, a response that one member of Congress said was warranted.

The postal worker also said he wasn't eager to go to jail, but at the same time took full responsibility for his actions. Hughes added that he was open to a deal with prosecutors.

Hughes would also like his gyrocopter back, telling reporters that he'd put "a lot of sweat and blood" into it.

As he was wrapping up his brief news conference, Hughes also accepted a mock-up of a "commemorative stamp" from a supporter.

Hughes was indicted Wednesday on six federal charges.

Hughes could face nine and a half years in federal prison if convicted of the two felonies — operating as a pilot without a certificate and violating aircraft registration requirements — as well as four misdemeanors, which include violating national defense airspace and operating a vehicle falsely labeled as a postal vehicle.

Eyewitness video caught the moment Hughes landed his gyrocopter on the lawn on April 15, with police swooping in soon after.

View this video on YouTube

Hughes was "lucky to be alive" and "should have been blown out of the air," a top Republican congressman told reporters following the landing.

The chairman of the House Oversight Committee, Rep. Jason Chaffetz of Utah, made the comments after senior officials from the Secret Service and Capitol Police briefed House members in a closed-door meeting on how 61-year-old Don Hughes was able to guide his small aircraft through 30 miles of restricted airspace to the Capitol lawn, exposing what lawmakers called a major security gap.

No one was hurt in the incident, which Hughes reportedly staged in an attempt to hand deliver mail to members of Congress advocating for campaign finance reform.

According to the Associated Press, lawmakers who were briefed on Wednesday said officials tracking Hughes from his take-off in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, feared harming others if they shot him down. CBS News reported that "multiple weapons" were trained on the man.

Hughes was released on his own recognizance after appearing in U.S. District Court to answer to the charges of operating an unregistered aircraft and violating national airspace.

The Tampa Bay Times reported that Hughes, who is from Florida's Ruskin area, was trying to hand-deliver mail to members of Congress.

He told the newspaper that he was advocating for campaign finance reform.

From the Tampa Bay Times:

If you're reading this, Doug Hughes, a 61-year-old mailman from Ruskin, has taken flight. His stated intent: to buzz through the air at 45 miles per hour at about 300 feet up in an ultralight gyrocopter toward Washington, D.C., toward protected airspace, where, if his plan works, he'll land on the lawn of the United States Capitol building and deliver the mail.

"No sane person would do what I'm doing," Hughes told the newspaper. "I don't believe that the authorities are going to shoot down a 61-year-old mailman in a flying bicycle. I don't have any defense, OK, but I don't believe that anybody wants to personally take responsibility for the fallout."

The incident also prompted lawmakers to question how such a slow-speed security breach could have occurred.

Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson told reporters that Hughes "literally flew under the radar" and that his agency was still assessing whether changes to security protocols were needed.

But Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, the top Democrat on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said the Hughes incident clearly exposed a "a very dangerous gap" in the airspace around the Capitol.

"I don't want people to get a message that they can just land anywhere," Cummings said, according to the AP. "Suppose there was a bomb or an explosive device on that air vehicle? That could have been a major catastrophe."

The U.S. Postal Service released a statement regarding the incident saying it did not condone or authorize Hughes' actions, which occurred while he was on leave.

The USPS added that it had opened its own investigation into the incident.

Hughes is expected to be arraigned on Thursday.

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