‘There Was a Calculated Risk’: Gyrocopter Pilot Knew He Could Die During Protest Flight to U.S. Capitol - NBC4 Washington
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‘There Was a Calculated Risk’: Gyrocopter Pilot Knew He Could Die During Protest Flight to U.S. Capitol

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    The Florida man who triggered a major security scare and gained worldwide attention by landing a gyrocopter outside the U.S. Capitol is working as a Lyft driver, writing a book and still recovering from the suicide of his son. Scott MacFarlane reports.

    (Published Wednesday, July 26, 2017)

    The Florida man who triggered a major security scare and gained worldwide attention by landing a gyrocopter outside the U.S. Capitol is working as a Lyft driver, writing a book and still recovering from the suicide of his son.

    In an interview with the News4 I-Team near his Tampa, Florida-area home, Doug Hughes said the 2015 gyrocopter incident financially devastated his family but raised public awareness about the political issue he was protesting.

    Hughes pleaded guilty to a federal charge of piloting without a license and served four months in federal prison near Miami. His 2015 protest scrambled U.S. Capitol Police, forced a lockdown at the Capitol and raised questions about whether law enforcement should force unidentified aircraft from the sky when they reach close proximity to the complex.

    Gyrocopter Pilot Tells Story of Flight to U.S. CapitolGyrocopter Pilot Tells Story of Flight to U.S. Capitol

    Doug Hughes, the Florida man who flew a gyrocopter to the U.S. Capitol in protest of campaign finance, tells the story of his flight.

    (Published Wednesday, July 26, 2017)

    The former U.S. Postal Service letter carrier’s arrest was captured on camera. Hughes was carrying 535 letters, one addressed to each Member of Congress, and emblazed his small aircraft with the logo of the Postal Service. He said the letters urged Congress to make major changes to the nation’s campaign finance system, which he said is corrupting political leaders.

    Hughes had driven the gyrocopter from his home in Ruskin, Florida, to a small airport in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, to make the flight to the Capitol grounds.

    He said he thought it was possible he’d die as he approached the west front of the Capitol.

    Protest Flight Cost Gyrocopter Pilot $30,000Protest Flight Cost Gyrocopter Pilot $30,000

    Gyrocopter pilot Doug Hughes estimates his flight to the U.S. Captiol cost him $30,000, but more importantly, it put a strain on his marriage.

    (Published Wednesday, July 26, 2017)

    “There was a calculated risk,” he said. “I knew it was possible they would. I had done everything I could to tilt the scales in my favor, but there was a definite risk of that."

    “When I made the turn to where I was looking up the entire length of the Washington Mall, which is a long park, a long greenway, and I could see the Capitol Dome, that’s when it was real,” he said. “‘I’m gonna be landing here. They’re not gonna be intercepting me. I’m gonna be able to land unless a sniper takes me out.’”

    Hughes said he began planning the 2015 protest two years earlier, just weeks after his son committed suicide.

    Gyrocopter Pilot Says Mental Health Was Not an IssueGyrocopter Pilot Says Mental Health Was Not an Issue

    Doug Hughes said mental health was not an issue when he flew a gyrocopter to the U.S. Capitol in protest of campaign finance.

    (Published Wednesday, July 26, 2017)

    “It had a profound effect on me in that as I grieved the loss of my son’s young life, and fact that there was so much he could do and so much potential that he had, I realized that at age 60 that I hadn’t done anything,” Hughes said. “The things that I was regretting my son would never do, I hadn’t done. And I decided that there was only one thing that I would set as a limit: I wouldn’t injure anyone else.”

    He said the protest financially devastated his family.

    “I would estimate I spent $30,000 in cash,” he said. “I lost my job with the Post Office. I spent four months in jail. There’s been a price.”

    Gyrocopter Wasn't First Choice for Protest Flight to U.S. CapitolGyrocopter Wasn't First Choice for Protest Flight to U.S. Capitol

    Doug Hughes said the gyrocopter wasn't his first choice for his protest flight to the U.S. Capitol.

    (Published Wednesday, July 26, 2017)

    Hughes now drives for Lyft in the southern suburbs of the Tampa-area. He said he handles several calls a day, typically ranging from $4 to $27 in fares.

    He is authoring a book about his flight and his political positions on campaign finance reform. He types the book on a small laptop computer on a large couch in his sparsely furnished living room and said he will attempt to self-publish the book to reduce costs.

    Hughes said he is considering buying another gyrocopter to use for publicity flights to support sales of the book. He said he would fly the aircraft legally from a hangar about an hour south of his Ruskin home.

    Gyrocopter Pilot Knew Plan to Fly to Capitol Meant Jail TimeGyrocopter Pilot Knew Plan to Fly to Capitol Meant Jail Time

    Doug Hughes said he knew he would go to jail for flying a gyrocopter to the U.S. Capitol

    (Published Wednesday, July 26, 2017)

    He said he is also considering future protests but said he has not finalized any plans.

    “Right now I’m confined, I am limited to the central district of Florida until my probation is finished,” he said. “When I’m done with that, I intend to continue to work on what I started and I intend to build the movement.”

    Reported by Scott MacFarlane, produced by Rick Yarborough, and shot and edited by Jeff Piper.

    Gyrocopter Pilot Says He Had Status in JailGyrocopter Pilot Says He Had Status in Jail

    Doug Hughes said he had status in jail for what he did and for doing for no personal gain.

    (Published Wednesday, July 26, 2017)

    Gyrocopter Pilot's Brother Tipped Off Authorities About His PlanGyrocopter Pilot's Brother Tipped Off Authorities About His Plan

    Federal authorities already were looking in to Doug Hughes before he made his gyrocopter flight to the U.S. Capitol.

    (Published Wednesday, July 26, 2017)

    Gyrocopter Pilot Not Surprised by SentenceGyrocopter Pilot Not Surprised by Sentence

    Doug Hughes said he wasn't surprised prosecutors sought a lot of jail time for his gyrocopter flight to the Capitol because of what he exposed.

    (Published Wednesday, July 26, 2017)

    Gyrocopter Pilot in Favor of Security Breaches as Non-Violent Civil DisobedienceGyrocopter Pilot in Favor of Security Breaches as Non-Violent Civil Disobedience

    Gyrocopter pilot Doug Hughes said people who breach security in the nation's capital in the name of civil disobedience shouldn't get harsh punishment.

    (Published Wednesday, July 26, 2017)