As police charges go, a traffic ticket for following another vehicle too closely doesn't seem that dire. But after Virginia state troopers handed James N. Cutshall a summons yesterday, the Manassas man took flight.

In his helicopter.

Cutshall, 40, lifted off with the blessing of the police.

He had been hauling the two-seat chopper on a trailer behind his pickup when he rear-ended a dump truck on eastbound Interstate 66 near the interchange with the Capital Beltway, state police said. In the 8 a.m. crash, the driver of the dump truck, Jose Bonilla, 26, of Herndon, suffered minor injuries.

Meanwhile, the hitch linking the pickup and the trailer snapped, stranding the helicopter, which is used for aerial photography, in the middle of one of the region's busiest commuter routes at the height of rush hour.

As members of a wrecker crew struggled to determine whether they could tow the trailer without overturning the helicopter, a single lane of rubbernecking motorists crawled past. The backup swelled to about 12 miles.

Nearly two hours later, police determined that the only way to get the chopper off the highway was straight up. As a precaution, eastbound I-66 was closed and the nearby pedestrian walkway serving the Dunn Loring station on Metro's Orange Line was briefly shut.

Then, as hundreds of exasperated motorists turned their eyes heavenward, Cutshall piloted the chopper back to the Manassas airfield. But not before police gave him his ticket to ride.