One of the most common responses I get to the question, “why did you choose Costa Rica?” is something along the lines of “we wanted to live out our dream”.

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There is not a better example of this than John (Jonni) Benson and John Hunter, operators of a business known as Hang Glide Costa Rica. Their plane, the Air Cam is from the prototype commissioned and built for National Geographic photographer Michael (Nick) Nichols to use for his Ndoki project in Africa in 1992.

Having met Jonni and John, I could not wait to go flying with them. My own interest in the sport began several years back. I started taking flying lessons just before moving down to Costa Rica, but had to postpone it when we decided to make the move to Esterillos Oeste, Costa Rica. Sitting and talking with them both renewed my interest and I am looking forward to spending a lot of time in the friendly skies above the Central Pacific coast.

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Jonni grew up in the Boston, Massachusetts area, where he lived until moving to Costa Rica several years ago. While playing soccer one day in elementary school he saw a hang glider fly over the field and knew at that moment he wanted to fly some day. Jonni is 35 years old and began pursuing his dream of flying at the age of 19. Starting out with hang gliding, he eventually moved on to planes, getting his pilot’s license a few years later. He ran the same type of business in Massachusetts, offering hang gliding and Ultra Light flights.

Jonni and his wife Cathy have a two year old daughter and are expecting their second child. They currently are living in the Jaco area, just north of where the business is located a few miles away between Hermosa and Esterillos Oeste.

Like so many people, he fell in love with Costa Rica when he first came the year of 2000 for surfing. He especially loved the Central Pacific coast and it didn’t take long to imagine what a better place to pursue both of his passions, flying and surfing.

Jonni has owned the Air Cam for 8 years now and can’t imagine doing anything else or living in a more beautiful location.

John Hunter is a 53 year old walking encyclopedia when it comes to Ultra Lights. John had the chance to see many parts of the world while his Father traveled with the Foreign Service, living in Paraguay, Jordon, Israel, Peru, and other places around the world. So John has had the opportunity to live, as well as fly in many countries throughout the world.

Similar to Jonni’s meeting with destiny, while watching a commercial one evening John saw on the screen a small plane off in the distance flying low over the horizon of a beautiful sunset. He immediately said to him self, “that is the kind of flying I want to do.” He began learning about the small plane called an Ultra Light in 1978.

John started flying Ultra Lights long before they were even regulated by the FAA. In the early days he was hired by a new owner of one of the small planes to go to California and fly the owners newly purchased plane back to Florida. John flew across country, completing the flight in only 4 days, eclipsing the previously held record of 6 days for a cross country flight. John made the flight with no navigation or communication equipment, using only a compass he had borrowed from someone’s car.

John was a financial planner and stock broker in Boca Raton, Florida but eventually left the stress and rat race of the financial world to try and make his hobby his livelihood. At the recommendation of his good friend Phil Lockwood, John moved to Cancun to help operate an Ultra Light business where he flew over 900 hours in only 11 months.

A few years later he got a call from Phil Lockwood who had been commissioned by the well known National Geographic photographer Michael (Nick) Nichols to build a twin engine plane for slow flight, low altitude aerial photography. Phil’s company Lockwood Aircraft was to design and build what today is the Air Cam, a 980 pound, twin engine plane that can hardly be called an Ultra Light.

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John became the factory Pilot and Marketing director for Lockwood Aircraft. John eventually got his pilot’s license after more than 2,500 hours of flying. John has flown over 80 types of aircraft, including a Citation Jet. John eventually left Lockwood Aircraft to pursue other adventures. John formed his own manufacturing company called Spectrum.

John’s design technician with Spectrum had come down to Costa Rica while doing work for Lockwood Aircraft to check out the engines on Jonni’s Air Cam and later told John he should meet Jonni Benson, an owner of one of the original Air Cams who was now living in Costa Rica.

It was one of those strange turns we sometimes take in life that brought John and Jonni together. They eventually talked on the phone and then later met here in Costa Rica. Just three weeks ago this month John joined Jonni’s team. Jonni is thrilled to have on his team, one of the original people involved in the design and building of the Air Cam that he has owned for 8 years.

Hang Glide Costa Rica offers flights 7 days a week. Flights start at $69 for 20 minutes, but can be tailored to fit your needs. Currently they only have the Air Cam flights, but in approximately 3 weeks will be offering tandem hang gliding, towed by the Air Cam and released at 1500 feet. Hang Gliding flights start at $99.

My friend Pat and I went up with John twice in 3 days. It was an awesome experience and one that I could never grow tired of. I highly recommend their service as an additional activity for your adventures while visiting or living in Costa Rica.

You can reach Hang Glide Costa Rica at 506-643-4200 or 506-353-5514 or visit their Hang Glide Costa Rica website here.

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