So, Who's This Gyrocopter Guy?

by Chris Tognotti

Well, there's your weird news item of the day. On Wednesday afternoon, a mysterious aircraft descended onto the lawn outside the U.S. Capitol building, sparking a short lockdown and a swift response from the Capitol Police Department. Now, the pilot's been arrested, and some information is starting to come out about just what this unexpected landing was. So, who is Capitol gyrocopter pilot Doug Hughes?

Well, the answer is certainly a lot more noteworthy now than it was yesterday. Here's what we know: Hughes, a 61-year-old mailman from Ruskin, Florida, had been hatching this plan for a while. For both specific and more general causes — his desire for campaign finance reform, and his opposition to corruption in politics — Hughes learned how to fly a gyrocopter over the last year. He maintained before the flight that he never had any intention of hurting anyone, but was rather trying to raise some awareness with a dramatic act of protest. He intended to deliver hundreds of letters to members of Congress, calling for an embrace of "real reform."

Now, you may be thinking "huh, isn't this oddly specific information about someone who just caused an incident at the Capitol?" And right you are! There's a very particular reason we know all this, and it speaks to Hughes' sense of pre-planning — he got in touch with the Tampa Bay Times ahead of time to tell his story. For real! Look, here he is.

I don't believe that the authorities are gonna shoot down a 60-year-old mailman in a flying bicycle. I'm gonna give them plenty of warning, well over an hour in advance of me getting to the no-fly zone, so that they know who I am, and what I'm doing, and that it's intended to be non-violent.

According to the paper's extensive report, Hughes was visited in early 2014 by a Secret Service agent, who prodded him with questions about his then-secret plan, also questioning a co-worker at the Post Office. And, as shown above, Hughes insisted that he'd give warning to the appropriate agencies upon his approach. This isn't what the Capitol Police Department told the Times, however — a spokesperson told them that "He hasn't notified anybody. We have no information."

At least Hughes thought to leave some information behind before he took off, however, laying out his dramatic, if ill-fated plan. I say "ill-fated" because throughout Hughes' explanation of his plan, there's an unavoidable flaw that nags at the consciousness — how will this galvanize public opinion on campaign finance reform? The sad truth is, for countless millions of people, the headline "man lands gyrocopter on front lawn of the U.S. Capitol" is almost certainly going to be the major takeaway, not "patriotic mailman fights for reform."

That said, you can't fault him for courage or urgency, either. As he told the Times in the video embedded above, he couldn't bear the thought of passing up what he considered a transformational idea.

I have thought about walking away from this whole thing because it's crazy. And I have thought about being 75 years old, and watching the collapse of this country, and thinking that I had an idea that might have arrested the fall, and I didn't do it.

It'll be fascinating to see what happens next for Hughes — he's currently under arrest, and presumably this is not the sort of thing the authorities are going to look very fondly on.

Image: Tampa Bay Times screenshot