Mutiny on the Helicarrier

A helicarrier is an ocean-going aircraft carrier that can fly. So, in Captain America The Winter Soldier, when HYDRA took control of the Project Insight helicarriers, was that a mutiny or a hijacking? Or some new form of air piracy?

Mutiny-AircraftPiracyMutiny is defined under the Mutiny Act of 1790 as follows:

Whoever, being of the crew of a vessel of the United States, on the high seas, or on any other waters within the admiralty and maritime jurisdiction of the United States, endeavors to make a revolt or mutiny on board such vessel, or combines, conspires, or confederates with any other person on board to make such revolt or mutiny, or solicits, incites, or stirs up any other of the crew to disobey or resist the lawful orders of the master or other officer of such vessel, or to refuse or neglect their proper duty on board thereof, or to betray their proper trust, or assembles with others in a tumultuous and mutinous manner, or makes a riot on board thereof, or unlawfully confines the master or other commanding officer thereof, shall be fined not more than $1,000, or imprisoned not more than five years, or both.

ALGIC (MUTINY)., 1937 AMC 1611.

Courts have held that a mutiny may occur while at dock in a harbor, either foreign or domestic, as well as at sea. Southern S.S. Co. v. NLRB, 316 U.S. 31, 41-42 (U.S. 1942).

Helicarrier_Mutiny_6822Aircraft Piracy is defined as “seizing or exercising control of an aircraft in the special aircraft jurisdiction of the United States by force, violence, threat of force or violence, or any form of intimidation, and with wrongful intent.” 49 USCS § 46502(A). Moreover, a party can commit air piracy even if the aircraft is not in flight, “if the aircraft would have been in the special aircraft jurisdiction of the United States had the aircraft piracy been completed.” 49 USCS § 46502(B).

The HYDRA Agents could likely be charged under both statutes, but neither is directly on point, because the helicarriers are flying ships that fit in both, and neither, statute simultaneously. Moreover, the Aircraft Piracy Act appears written with civilian aircraft in mind, however the plain text does not limit its application.

Breaking down the basic facts of Captain America The Winter Soldier, the HYDRA Agents took the ships by force, while other HYDRA Agents took the SHIELD Mission Control Center operating the launch. The actions taking control of the ships occurred in the underground Project Insight dry docks located under the Potomac.

Mutiny_AirPiracy_1075A Court could find the actions of the HYDRA/SHIELD double agents was a mutiny, because the helicarriers were in dry dock, which happened to be under navigable water. Since a crew could be charged with mutiny for a ship in port, a ship in dry dock under navigable water could violate the Mutiny Act of 1790 and its following case law. The fact the aircraft carrier could fly is purely academic.

To borrow from the Wizard of Oz, just because a monkey has wings does not mean it isn’t a monkey: it’s a flying monkey. Same with a flying aircraft carrier.

This does not mean we ignore the fact the Project Insight carriers could fly. Seizing control of the helicarriers arguably was Aircraft Piracy, because the HYDRA Agents took control of the helicarriers through violence and “wrongful intent” to kill a massive amount of civilians. 49 USCS § 46502(A).

We do not have ships that fly in real life, but Captain America has highlighted a strange tale of a legal situation where the SHIELD-turned-HYDRA traitors could violate both the Mutiny Act of of 1790 and the Aircraft Piracy Act.

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Josh Gilliland
Josh Gilliland is a California attorney who focuses his practice on eDiscovery. Josh is the co-creator of The Legal Geeks, which has made the ABA Journal Top Blawg 100 Blawg for 2013 to 2016, the ABA Web 100 for Best Legal Blog and Podcast categories, and was nominated for Best Podcast for the 2015 Geekie Awards. Josh has presented at legal conferences and comic book conventions across the United States. He also ties a mean bow tie.