United States

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

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.

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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.

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“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.

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“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.”

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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.

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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.

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