University of Strathclyde: Strathclyde researchers aim for the skies in hot air balloon project

Two doctoral researchers have set in motion their plans to make the University of Strathclyde the first institution in Scotland with its own hot air balloon.

Engineering researchers Sheik Abdul Malik and Maisie Keogh launched their Strathclyde-branded cold air balloon as part of a vision they have been developing for the past three years, through Strathclyde University Hot Air Balloon Society (SUHABS).

Working with Strathclyde Business School, they have been developing a business case and hope to produce a purpose-driven model to establish a successful start-up. Future projects include a programme offering students the chance to qualify for a pilot’s licence.

The launch, in Rottenrow Gardens on Strathclyde’s campus, was attended by the University’s Principal, Professor Sir Jim McDonald, Vice-Principal Professor Scott MacGregor, Associate Principal Professor Eleanor Shaw and Chief Digital & Information Officer Beth Lawton, as well as colleagues from the Business School. Also in attendance were corporate sponsors and Strathclyde alumni, Chris Lawlor of Lawlor Technologies and pilot Douglas Hoddinott of Kubicek Balloons UK and Deccan Airsports.

Malik, of Strathclyde’s Department of Mechanical & Aerospace Engineering, is the founding President of SUHABS. He became interested in ballooning while an undergraduate at the University of Bristol.

“I saw the enormous benefits that hot air ballooning had on the student community,” he said. “Coupled with my passion for aviation, I was keen to see this implemented at Strathclyde.

“We knew that we wanted to provide an outstanding experience for students which would offer global engagement and which gave us the ability to innovate and create impact.”

Having founded SUHABS with a mission to introduce hot air ballooning to a new, more diverse generation of students and inspire them to develop their personal and professional skills, its members found that much of what was driving them aligned with Strathclyde’s Strategic Vision 2025. At the launch, Sir Jim named the cold air balloon “Wee Andy” after Strathclyde founder John Anderson.

Malik said: This is a major milestone for SUHABS and one that helps to show that Strathclyde really is ‘The Place of Useful Learning’.

“We were delighted to welcome members of the University’s leadership team to our launch event and to have the opportunity to thank them for all of their support over the past year. Wee Andy was the perfect name and we are now looking ahead to the future of the society and our aims of procuring a hot air balloon. We hope we can secure ‘Big Andy’ by the end of the year.”

Maisie is a researcher in the Sir Jules Thorn Centre for Co-creation of Rehabilitation Technology in the Department of Biomedical Engineering. She said: “I am delighted to be leading on developing the STEM engagement arm of SUHABS, utilising our new acquisition and working with the local community to host outreach activities – something I am incredibly passionate about.

“I am also responsible for advancing our flagship Pilot Under Training Programme, aimed at providing students with the opportunity to attain a pilot’s licence during the course of their studies.

“We know that we have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to leave a lasting legacy at the University of Strathclyde and we want to positively impact as many current and future students and staff as possible.

“We are thrilled to be working with so many staff at the University who share our vision and we are excited to see what the future holds for our venture.”

The cold air balloon displayed at the launch is one-tenth the size of the hot air balloon SUHABS is procuring and is a replica in terms of design. It will be primarily used as an educational tool, helping SUHABS to develop its STEM outreach programme in the local community and organising workshops around principles in physics and aviation. It will also function as a marketing tool for the University, Strathclyde’s students’ union, SUHABS and the society’s sponsors.

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