Capitol gyrocopter escapade recalls ’87 Kremlin flight

The most outrageous part about the man who landed his gyrocopter undetected on the lawn of the U.S. Capitol today is that the Secret Service knew he was coming, and still didn’t stop him.

Douglas Hughes, 61, a mailman by trade, landed his aircraft this afternoon to deliver letters of protest urging campaign finance reform, a halt to corruption in the government, and a trimming of the national security apparatus.

He might add “the lax security in Washington” given that the Tampa Bay Tribune told the Secret Service he was coming.


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Mr. Hughes will find few friends in the aviation community, which has seen more and more airspace closed to recreational pilots because of the fear of terrorism.

Since 9/11, Washington’s airspace has been closed to virtually all aircraft.

Hughes’ gambit is reminiscent of the case of Mathias Rust, who landed his small plane near the Kremlin in the middle of the Cold War in 1987.

He ended up in prison for more than a year.

It was an embarrassment to the Soviet Union, which has the largest air defense system in the world.

Mr. Hughes ran into similar incompetence today, although he had predicted to the Tampa Tribune that someone would put up a fight in Washington.

“Somebody will realize that they’ve got to modify the playbook and they’ll probably scramble a helicopter,” he said.

“They’ll scramble a Blackhawk from Quantico, and there’s a 50-50 chance that a Blackhawk at full throttle will overfly me and realize that he’s missed and he’ll have to come back. Again, I’m going to fly low and slow and these guys are going to have a full head of adrenaline.

“Eventually, I’m hoping the Blackhawk will catch up with me about the time that the authorities realize that I’m not a threat and knocking me down is not a politically savvy move, and I anticipate having an escort all the way in. I’m hoping for a friendly escort.”

So far, there’s no evidence any aircraft was scrambled to intercept him.

Hughes’ friend, who alerted the Secret Service weeks ago to the plan, called the Secret Service agent’s cellphone today to let him know what was about to happen.

Nobody answered, he said.