US Military Unaware Gyrocopter Violated DC Airspace

The government has intercept helicopters standing by, but they weren't called.

ByJustin Fishel
April 15, 2015, 10:27 PM

— -- The United States military says it was unaware that an aircraft had flown into restricted airspace over Washington, D.C., Wednesday and was only alerted of its presence after it landed.

Just before 2 p.m., Douglas Hughes was arrested after landing his gyrocopter on the West front of the United States Capitol building, said U.S. Capitol Police.

The United States Northern Command and North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), the military organizations responsible for protecting the capital region airspace, say they never saw it. “There was no NORAD involvement,” said spokesman Michael Kucharek. He deferred questions about who may have detected it first to the U.S. Capitol Police and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

Kucharek said the military has MH-65 helicopters on standby at all times in Washington, D.C., for the specific purpose of intercepting slow-moving aircraft, yet none were sent.

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Hughes , 61, spoke to the Tampa Bay Times about his intent to fly his gyrocopter to Capitol Hill and deliver 535 letters addressed to each member of Congress calling for campaign finance reform. In an online interview with the paper, he said he is a postman, not a terrorist, and that he did not intend to harm anyone, including himself.

But the incident raises questions as to why no one was able to intercept him before he gained access to the Capitol grounds, particularly if the news media knew about the flight beforehand.

In additional to the media's knowledge, the Secret Service interviewed Hughes last year after learning he may have been planning something for the future, said a spokesman.

In an interview with ABC’s Jim Avila, Tampa Bay Times reporter Ben Montgomery claimed the United States Secret Service had been aware of Hughes for over a year, but Montgomery did not inform anyone about the specific timing of Hughes' planned flight. The Secret Service said it wasn't warned of his plan today in a statement.

Whether authorities had prior knowledge of the plan, Kucharek was skeptical that an aircraft that small could have flown undetected into the restricted airspace. Law enforcement sources said he flew to Washington, D.C., from Cumberland Township in Pennsylvania, more than fifty miles from the capital.

The FAA said the pilot was not in contact with air traffic controllers.

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