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The curious case of the “gyrocopter”

Curious indeed.

If you’re like me, you have never heard of a “gyrocopter.” But thanks to Doug Hughes, the country – and especially Capitol Hill, are very familiar with the aircraft.

The man who landed a gyrocopter on the Capitol lawn pleaded not guilty to six federal charges, including two felonies, during his arraignment in a D.C. courtroom Thursday.

Doug Hughes, 61, was indicted on the charges for his April stunt, and faces up to nine and a half years if convicted. Hughes spoke to the press after his hearing, saying “I would never do anything like this again, but I would do it exactly the way I did.”

Hughes was handed a large stamp with his face on it outside court Thursday. He took the stamp, held it above his head and smiled for cameras before walking away with his lawyer.

 The full charges against Hughes are one count of operating as an airman without an airman’s certificate, one count of violating registration requirements involving aircraft, three counts of violation of national defense airspace and one count of operating a vehicle falsely labeled as a postal carrier.

On April 15, Hughes flew his gyrocopter from Gettysburg, Pa. to the Capitol, passing through three no-fly zones to deliver letters about campaign finance reform to lawmakers. The gyrocopter, which he owned, had the logo of the United States Postal Service on it without permission. Hughes was a USPS employee in Florida, but was on leave at the time of the incident.

He landed on the Capitol lawn with mailbag containing a letter to each member of Congress urging campaign finance reform.

“Doing the stunt the way I did brought the attention to Capitol Hill, to Congress – that’s where the problem is and that’s where I brought the attention,” said Hughes.

He’s using his sudden celebrity to bring attention to a political process he says is more concerned about money than the American people.

“Overall Congress is in it for the money. They’re in it for themselves. They are doing what special interests tell them to do and we’ve been cut out of the political process,” said Hughes.

His stunt also sparked debate about the U.S. Secret Service’s decision not to shoot him down.

“I engineered the stunt so that Washington would get warning. They already knew who I was, the Secret Service had already vetted me and knew I was non-violent,” claimed Hughes.

Hughes, who lives in Florida, returned to the nation’s capital on Wednesday, by car. Hughes had been under house arrest in Florida and is banned from returning to D.C. except for court appearances and meetings with his attorney. The magistrate lifted Hughes’s house arrest Thursday, instead restricting his travel in Florida to his home county. Hughes also cannot visit the Capitol, White House and other areas.

The father of three says even if he goes to jail he will not stop fighting for campaign finance reform.

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