POLITICS

Man Who Flew Gyrocopter On Capitol Grounds Pleads Not Guilty

05/21/2015 02:55 pm ET

By Ian Simpson

WASHINGTON, May 21 (Reuters) - The Florida man who flew a gyrocopter onto the grounds of the U.S. Capitol pleaded not guilty on Thursday to charges of aircraft violations and breaching some of the world's most restricted airspace.

Douglas Hughes, a 61-year-old mail carrier from Ruskin, Florida, was indicted by a federal grand jury on Wednesday. His April 15 stunt was aimed at drawing attention to the need for campaign finance reform.

The flight of the small, unauthorized aircraft was among the most high-profile of recent security lapses in the U.S. capital.

Hughes pleaded not guilty before U.S. Magistrate Judge Alan Kay.

Hughes was arrested after piloting the craft from Pennsylvania and landing on the west lawn of the Capitol as police and tourists looked on.

He faces six charges, including violating the registration requirements for an aircraft and national defense airspace.

If convicted of all charges, he could be sentenced to up to 9 1/2 years in prison. Aircraft are banned from flying in the area of the Capitol and White House without permission.

Hughes was carrying a letter calling for campaign finance reform for each of the 535 members of Congress.

Prosecutors say Hughes lacked a pilot's certificate or registration for the craft. Hughes owned the gyrocopter but it carried the unauthorized logo and emblem of the U.S. Postal Service, they say.

The grand jury indictment includes a forfeiture allegation seeking a judgment for his gyrocopter, which has been seized by law enforcement. A gyrocopter resembles a helicopter, but has an unpowered rotor and separate propeller like an airplane.

Hughes was on leave from the Postal Service at the time of the incident. He has been free on personal recognizance since an initial court appearance on April 16. (Reporting by Ian Simpson; Editing by Doina Chiacu)

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