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Gyrocopter pilot appears in federal court

Doug Hughes, the Florida man who flew his gyrocopter into Washington, D.C. and landed it on the west front lawn of the Capitol building last month, was arraigned in D.C. federal court on Thursday afternoon.

He arrived at federal court, dressed in a gray suit and accompanied by his lawyer. He was arraigned on six charges, including two felonies. Hughes entered a plea of "not guilty" on each of the charges.

Outside of the courthouse following his arraignment, Hughes said he's prepared for the penalties he'll face for breaking law. However, he suggested he's not remorseful for his stunt, designed to bring attention to the issue of campaign finance reform.

"I accepted the consequences of what I was doing because I believe it's critical we return our democracy to the people, and [that] can be done with solutions that have already been defined," he said outside of the courtroom. "I'll never do something like this again, but I would do it again exactly as I did."

The terms of Hughes' release remain the same: he can only come to Washington, D.C. for legal appointments, and even then, he has been ordered to avoid the Capitol and the White House. Hughes will continue to wear a GPS monitor and cannot operate flying devices of any kind.

The judge did, however, relax his home confinement, and he is now only confined to the county he lives in - Hillsborough County, Florida. Hughes is next scheduled to appear in court in six days.

If convicted of the six charges, Hughes could be sentenced to almost 10 years in prison. A grand jury formally indicted him on Wednesday.

"I'm not eager for jail time," Hughes told reporters. "On the other hand, I took responsibility for what I did."

Hughes said he's "open" to a plea with the prosecutor, noting that he did not cause any property damage, nor did he injure anyone. Furthermore, he said, "the purpose of my civil disobedience was to get Congress and the government so they're working for the people and not special interests."

Gyrocopter pilot shares his message about democracy

The resident of Ruskin, Florida started high flight in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, according to the government's evidence, taking him through three no-fly zones. Hughes was employed as a U.S. postal carrier, but he did not have authorization to use the U.S. Postal Service emblem on his gyrocopter.

The grand jury indicted Hughes on two felony charges: operating as an airman without an airman's certificate, and violating registration requirements involving aircraft. The remaining charges are misdemeanor counts: three counts of violation of national defense airspace and one of operating a vehicle falsely labeled as a postal carrier.

The two felony charges each carry a maximum penalty of three years in prison and potential fines. The misdemeanor charges of violations of airspace each carry a maximum penalty of one year in prison and potential fines, while the last misdemeanor charge carries a maximum penalty of six months in prison and fines.

While Hughes suggested he doesn't regret his flight, he did say Thursday that he would discourage anyone from trying a similar stunt.

"If my flight exposed flaws in the safety net -- the security [surrounding the Capitol] -- they were procedural, and they've been plugged," Hughes said, adding that someone flying a gyrocopter in restricted airspace now risked getting shot down.

"I highly recommend nobody try it," he said.


Hughes added that he'd like his gyrocopter back but doesn't expect the government to give it back to him.

After speaking to the press on Thursday, Hughes was given a drawing of a "commemorative stamp" featuring a picture of his face, his gyrocopter and the words, "Doug Hughes' Historic Flight Against Corruption." As he left the courthouse, others there called to Hughes, calling him a "hero."

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