Smoke On Go

Gallery: Steve McCurrach

As a boy, Steve McCurrach of AIRSERV joined the ‘Air Scouts’ while also taking Art as a school subject – his two passions combining at a very early age.  He shares a little about his career as a pilot and photographer:

My log book shows a first instruction flight in a Cessna 150 in Feb 1983 (38yrs ago) at FAVG. My older brother had been an exceptionally successful aviator and my dad before him had served engineering time, working on Sunderland flying boats stationed in Durban Harbour – so the passion was deep seated and surely somewhat hereditary.  

Whenever I see a military flight occurring, I capture and later share the pics. They never normally get pics like this and they therefore welcome the image sharing.

I have a LSA, being a Rainbow Cheetah, now known as a Bush Cat from SkyReach, with Rotax 912s, which I acquired from new in December 2005 (16 years ago), flying it home from the factory on Christmas Eve. An occasion never to be forgotten and making a ‘plane/person relationship’ which personifies me.

I once did a display rating with the type, which along with all the photo antics, put me so in touch with this wee aeroplane, that one year I went for the annual grilling of the ‘Renewal’ and I was immensely proud, to have the DE tell me “you don’t fly this plane, you wear it”.”    

Air-to-air images are always loved by the aircraft owners –
sometimes staged and sometimes caught ‘on the fly’ – pun intended.

Before the era of data loggers, Precision Flying required aerial photos, to prove track and turnpoints and from this, along with a childhood passion for photography, an occupation evolved.

I eventually became much disliked by any KZN aerial photographers, as all of them were hiring helicopters to do their thing, whereas I was flying myself and capturing the pics. So on all fronts they couldn’t touch me and I was ‘riding the wave’ – and then came the drones. If anyone reading this is familiar with the term “disruptive technologies”, then let me share that disruptive tech is very real and this evolving tech had me go from Hero to Zero, in the course of two years.

Sadly, without any human observational intelligence up in the sky, the drones don’t see artistic opportunity on the ground, rather being target fixated and then rushing back before the battery dies. This is a loss, as the wealth of artistic and newsworthy imagery which I was accumulating, kinda dies along with the proliferation in drones and with this, comes a world which is a little more imaging sterile.

I have worked with the who’s who of industry, commerce and property in KZN, from Province and Municipalities, to all the biggest names in the building industry. A particular interest has been maritime – the shipping industry, which is Big here in Durban. This is an area where I continue to ‘survive’, because in the Port when you bring out a drone, security are all over you like you are a criminal, whereas I will fly around, contentedly capturing my pics and with no one bothering me.           

The Flying Lions were in KZN for the annual Royal Show in Pmb and I nailed several nice pics from above as they polished their routine.

Asked about his favourite plane, Steve says: “My own Rainbow Cheetah is such a sweetheart, so economical and most of all, it is so rudder efficient, that I could not do without it. Understanding that while capturing, I have both hands on the camera and firing away, so I have to have a plane which is rudder ‘controlled’ and without any nasty stall behaviour.

“If I ‘lost’ my plane and you lined up five best seller LSA’s (including a Cheetah) and said “pick your replacement”, then I would go immediately back to the exact same aircraft. Many here will relate – to some particular aircraft, where it just behaves and by pure feel through the seat of your pants and the sound (wind/prop/engine), you know exactly where it’s at. ”   

A rare visit to Durban of a c130.

And what about the plane he’d most love to fly? “Wow, I don’t know. I could keep you busy here for a while, telling you of the types in which I have scant interest, but which one I dream of flying… Mmm it might narrow down to Spitfire or P51 Mustang.”

With some co-ordination and good comms, I orbited overhead this duster while he did his work and the pic needs
a caption “Do that again!”, because it’s that rare. His huge climbing turn at the end of each run where what needed great care.

My best aerial photography moment is a whole editorial story of its own, but undoubtedly my capturing of a remake, of an iconic KZN image, the ‘Beach to Berg’ where the whole of KZN is clear to be seen.  In this pic, I shot from 10kms out to sea and it includes from the Durban beaches, to the snowy Drakensberg, all in sharp focus.

I sat with approved flight plans (CAMU Authorisations) for three years, before the exceptionally rare Met conditions presented. The planning and patience required and then seeing the pic in the digital camera back, was a memorable highlight, where I knew that some Magic had just happened – and it must have been magic, as this image remains evergreen and in demand to this day. 

Capturing airliners on the apron is not easily arranged, maybe even impossible at ORT or Cape Town, but in laid back Durban, things are a little different.

And what about his scariest moment?

An ATC released me quite promptly…… “with the landing B737 in sight, pass behind, to your position East of the runway and report next when detail complete” and in my eagerness to photograph the B737 whilst it was still on the taxiways, I made best speed to pass behind and I flew through it’s wake. Most folks in this forum love going inverted – but that’s only when its done on purpose and conversely, when it happens by surprise and leaves you recovering from a very unusual flight attitude and near heart failure, then its damned scary.

That age-old story about “old and bold pilots” well I think that we are all an adventurous bunch here, and those who get old, do so because they have experiences like that, which are packaged up as Warnings, to NEVER go to that scenario again – and then they get older.       

Thanks to the enthusiasts, some old warbirds are kept alive.

Thanks to the Tsunami of drones, I had to rapidly remodel and upskill into the department of Commercial and Industrial videography, with a lot of my loyal clients having been supportive gems.

This image could easily be in the book ‘Open Cockpit Over Africa’.

Officialdom and public sentiment have turned so harshly against drones, that I have seen a recent and proper resurgence in the need for real aerial photography. For example; an ATC would much rather have a visible and Mode C ‘squawking’ aircraft in his pattern, than a drone, whilst flights around public places and even in suburbia quickly raise the ire of everyone.

So my plans are to be thankful for having had the persistence, to have survived a storm and to re-energise my aerial photographic efforts – if good health, my Rotax and the Commission Against Aviation will all allow.

A non-descript background, blurred prop, room for the plane to move into in the composition – these are all ingredients needed to make a desirable in-flight image.
A KZN anti poaching flight, barely VFR over the morning mist and amongst the Mhlosinga trees, off on daily patrol.
Is this a sign of the times – aviation decay, as the economy, Lockdowns and bureaucracy all play their part in what seems to be, more losses than new hangars and new aircraft.
Smoke on… Go!

Contact Steve:

Visit Steve’s AIRSERV website or find him on Facebook. You can also call him on +27 (0)82 891 1689   or email him:        




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