Home' Scoop : Scoop 52 Contents 92 SCOOP AUTUMN 2010
Jon Davison expected high adventure
during a round-the-world assignment
-- but he didn t count on being stuck
up a tree, in the pitch dark, with a
leopard for company.
Kiwi-born Jon s three-month odyssey took him
from Auckland, to Arizona, to Alaska and many
exotic locales in between to capture the thrills and
beauty of the Robinson helicopter for his book,
Robbie, e Robinson helicopter experience.
The result is a spectacular collection of shots,
from cherry-red Robinsons framed against rugged
Alaskan peaks to the tiny, ultra-manoeuvrable and
affordable choppers zipping over flowing lava in
Hawaii. But it was on the South African leg of
Jon s trip, shooting Robinsons being used to tran-
quillise and capture wildlife for the game park and
hunting industry, that things got a little hairy.
"We were out on the savannah and I d noticed,
about a kilometre from us, a leopard. The pilot
had left me to go back for fuel. He said if anything
happened, go and wait up a tree.
"And it did. He had problem with the rotor
and I was left there for a few hours. It got dark,
so I went up the tree. The stars were amazing but
then I heard a rustling noise... I turned my phone
on and right in front were two yellow eyes staring
straight back -- there was a leopard sprawled on a
branch. Luckily, it looked buggered! I thought this
is it and started texting my girlfriend and friends.
She thought I was joking..."
The approach of lights on the horizon signalled
the repaired Robinson s return and when Jon
turned, heart-in-mouth, to see what his tree-
dwelling "companion" was doing, the leopard had
vanished as silently as it arrived.
Up-close-and-personal with a leopard was a
first for Jon but so was working with the nimble
Robinson chopper, surprising considering his vast
experience in aviation photography, a passion trig-
gered when he was growing up in New Zealand.
"In the 50s in New Zealand you had the beau-
tiful green countryside and all these old warbirds
-- Corsairs, Venturas -- sitting in fields or play-
grounds. I was about six or seven in the country
when I saw a magnificent white Avro Vulcan come
down the valley. That, and the clear Pacific light,
made an impression."
He s gone on to self-publish 18 books on topics
as diverse as air shows to submarines (his father was
a submariner) to a tome on Oxford University and
has contributed to 150 Lonely Planet travel guides.
As an aviation snapper with a penchant for air-to-
air (A2A in the lingo) work, Jon s fulfilled many a
schoolboy s dream (mine included) with trips in
seriously cool aircraft such as the F-4 Phantom,
the FA-18 and other boy s-own adventures, includ-
ing high altitude parachuting. So what makes the
Robinson helicopter so special?
"Before the Robinson, a helicopter would cost
you two to three million dollars. But Frank Robin-
son wanted to make a helicopter that anyone could
own; he was turned down by a lot of people before
deciding to make his own," says Jon.
The American s dream evolved into the two-seat
R22 and four-seater R44. The company is now a
world leader in the civilian helicopter market. The
"birds" cost in the hundreds of thousands of
dollars, not millions, and says Jon have revolution-
ised the tourism industry. Their "toy-like"
appearance (they are a piston-driven helicopter,
unlike their turbine-driven, much costlier, cousins)
belies their incredible agility, says Jon.
"They are tricky to fly but once you master
them, they can do just about anything. They re
very practical, logical and cheap."
The Robinson factory in Torrance, California,
now produces hundreds each year, many destined
for TV stations, law enforcement authorities or
tourism operations. A jet-powered five-seater, the
R66, is on the drawing board. Next up for Jon is a
sequel to Robbie, this time centred around the little
chopper in action at the wonders of the world, the
pyramids, Peru s mysterious Nazca Plain lines and
the like. And as Jon enthuses, there s nothing like
being strapped into a harness and shooting another
aircraft just metres away with nothing between you
except the big, open, blue sky.
"I make some kind of link, an emotional
connection, to the aircraft I m photographing.
It s the most intimate, most rewarding thing... it s
a moment of clarity," he says.
Eyeinthesky.com.au, (08) 9433 5541.
Freo aviation photographer Jon Davison almost got more than he
bargained for during a round-the-world odyssey for a new book on
the remarkable Robinson helicopter. text norman burns « images courtesy jon davison
FLIGHT CLUB: A Rotorvation R44 Raven II flies o Cottesloe
Beach. Right: Fremantle photographer Jon Davison gets ready
to take to the air. Below left: An R22 operated by Bassair skims
towards a tranquillised eland, the world's largest antelope, in
the South African savannah.
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