The public has a new fascination with gyrocopters ever since postman and pilot Doug Hughes landed his on the lawn of the U.S. Capitol.
Hughes says he made every possible effort to inform authorities before his infamous flight: in fact the Secret Service had learned of Hughes potential plan more than a year prior to its occurring. But federal officials insist that they had no reason to believe that he would actually carry it out.
For Hughes, his daring flight was intended to raise awareness about the monetary influences taking over politics, and his plan was to distribute letters about his issue – as a good postman does – to members of Congress.
His plan also brought attention t0 his choice of travel. Gyrocopters are small aircraft that are often compared to a “flying bicycle.” Normally a single seater open to the air, these light vehicles can be purchased complete or in a kit, making them an inexpensive way for aviation hobbyists to take to the skies.
Hughes flight wasn’t picked up on radar because he was flying below 150 feet – typical for a gyrocopter. The pilot cruises close to the ground and at a slow speed, usually under 60 mph. Most gyrocopters have only three controls: a joy stick, pedals to control the rudder, and a throttle.
The vehicle’s unpowered blade on top of the aircraft is given a spin – by hand on the most basic models – to create lift. As the propeller spins it creates thrust while the engine-powered rudder in the back powers the aircraft down the runway. Not to be confused with a helicopter, the gyrocopter is part helicopter part airplane as it makes forward progress to take off.
Landing a gyrocopter simply requires the pilot to let off the throttle, sending the aircraft into a smooth, controlled descent. Gyrocopters are considered one of the safest ways to fly because the engine is not connected to the rotors so the flight isn’t seriously affected if the engine stops in flight. The gyrocopter has a short landing roll, and can sit down in a very small open space. Because they fly low and slow, gyrocopters are less impacted by the weather conditions that would ground many other types of sport aircraft.
Hughes is now under house arrest at his Ruskin, Florida home after the flight from Gettysburg, Pennsylvania to Washington, D.C. and is facing charges of operating an unregistered aircraft and violating national airspace. He faces the potential of four years in prison and substantial fines.