Strathclyde researchers aim for the sky in hot air balloon project

The launch of the SUHABS hot air balloon.  From left to right: Sheil Abdul Malik;  Maisie Keogh;  Assistant Principal Professor Scott MacGregor;  Beth Lawton, Director of Digital and Information;  associate senior professor Eleanor Shaw;  Head Teacher Sir Jim McDonald;  pilot Douglas Hoddinott;  Chris Lawlor of Lawlor Technologies;  Ru Wallace VP Community of Strathclyde's Students' Union.  Photo by Guy Hinks

Two doctoral students have set in motion their plan to make the University of Strathclyde the first institution in Scotland to have 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’ve been developing for three years, through the Strathclyde University Hot Air Balloon Society (SUHABS) .

Working with Strathclyde Business School, they have developed a business case and hope to produce a goal-oriented model for establishing a successful start-up. Future plans include a program offering students the opportunity to qualify for a pilot’s license.

The launch, at Rottenrow Gardens on the Strathclyde campus, was attended by University Principal Professor Sir Jim McDonald, Assistant Professor Scott MacGregor, Associate Senior Professor Eleanor Shaw and Chief Digital and 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, from the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at Strathclyde, is the founding chairman of SUHABS. He became interested in hot air ballooning while a student at the University of Bristol.

“I saw the huge benefits that hot air ballooning had on the student community,” he said. “Coupled with my passion for aviation, I was looking forward to seeing this implemented in Strathclyde.

“We knew we wanted to provide an exceptional student experience that would provide global engagement and give 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 have found that much of what motivates them is aligned with the Strathclyde Strategic Vision 2025. 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 helps to show that Strathclyde truly is ‘The Place for 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 now we look to the future of the company and our goals of getting a hot air balloon. We hope we can secure “Big Andy” by the end of the year.

Maisie is a research fellow at the Sir Jules Thorn Center for Co-creation of Rehabilitation Technology in the Department of Biomedical Engineering. She said, “I am excited to lead the development of the STEM engagement arm of SUHABS, to use our new acquisition and to work with the local community to organize outreach activities – something I am immensely passionate about.

“I am also responsible for advancing our flagship Pilot Under Training program, which aims to provide students with the opportunity to obtain a pilot’s license during their studies.

“We know we have a unique opportunity to leave a lasting legacy at the University of Strathclyde and we want to have a positive impact on as many current and future students and staff as possible.

“We are delighted to work with so many University staff who share our vision and we are excited to see what the future holds for our business.”

The cold air balloon shown at the launch is one-tenth the size of the hot air balloon that SUHABS purchases and is a replica in terms of design. It will primarily be used as an educational tool, helping SUHABS to grow its STEM outreach program in the local community and running workshops around the principles of physics and aviation. It will also serve as a marketing tool for the university, Strathclyde Students’ Union, SUHABS and corporate sponsors.