Gyrocopter able to fly undetected into restricted airspace

Airspace near the White House, Capitol Building and National Mall is all restricted.

That didn't stop Doug Hughes, a Florida mailman, from managing to land a small aircraft on the west lawn of the Capitol Building Wednesday - in plain view of hundreds of onlookers.

FOX 5's Bob Barnard spoke with gyroplane pilot Christopher R. Burgess for insight on what the aircraft is and how the man was able to fly - undetected - onto the Capitol grounds.

Hughes was flying what is described as a gyroplane - a gyrocopter, Burgess says, is a brand name for a specific craft. The craft has a propeller on top and a second behind, which propels it forward.

Burgess, a Vietnam helicopter pilot and instructor, says he always thought it would be possible to land a small craft in restricted D.C. airspace without being stopped. He says that the distance Hughes reportedly flew - from Gettysburg to D.C. – probably used most of the craft's fuel.

Burgess said he is unsure if the aircraft was registered correctly and was not surprised that the small aircraft was not picked up on radar as he approached the district.

"As soon as you hit this outer ring, you have to have a transponder code. You have to squawk that code and you can't go any further unless you've been cleared by air traffic control to enter that area," said Burgess. "If you penetrate that area without all that information they'll send somebody out after to you find out what's going on." A second inner ring requires a different set of identification.

Some reports say military crews were prepared to shoot Hughes' aircraft down. Burgess said that that is not surprising since the threat of the plane being armed with biological weapons or explosives was always possible.

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