Two doctoral researchers at the University of Strathclyde have launched Scotland’s first university-branded hot air balloon.

Sheik Abdul Malik and Maisie Keogh gave the balloon its maiden launch on Saturday 29 April at Ross Priory, Strathclyde’s conference venue on the banks of Loch Lomond.

Glasgow City Lord Provost Jacqueline McLaren was among those attending the naming ceremony and the maiden event, along with Councillor Philip Braat, and Lawlor Technologies, a legacy partner in the balloon project.

Strathclyde Principal and Vice-Chancellor Professor Sir Jim McDonald said: “Malik and Maisie have shown great innovation, skill and entrepreneurship in the development, construction and flight of Wee Andy and Big Andy. They and their work are a credit to themselves and to Strathclyde.

“The balloons they have built and flown have great potential for use in our STEM outreach work, which is a significant part of our widening access strategy. Recruiting new students for these disciplines, from as broad a range of candidates as possible, is essential to the advancement and prosperity of our society and Malik and Maisie are making a valuable contribution to this. I’m enormously proud of what they have achieved.”

Sir Jim McDonald

Sir Jim agreed to have the balloon named ‘Big Andy’ in honour of Strathclyde’s founder, John Anderson. Big Andy has been manufactured by Kubicek Balloons.

Malik and Maisie have produced the hot air balloon, by building on the development of Wee Andy, a cold-air balloon one-tenth Big Andy’s size, which was launched in April 2022. They have carried out the development over the past four years, through Strathclyde University Hot Air Balloon Society (SUHABS).

The balloons will be primarily used as educational tools, 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.

Lord Provost McLaren said: “It’s such a fun way to promote learning and a great metaphor for the value of education – the sky’s the limit. I’m confident Big Andy will be a huge hit with locals and visitors.”

Maisie said: “Both Wee Andy and Big Andy have so much potential to enhance the student experience at Strathclyde and enable young people in Scotland to access something that is typically a high-barrier sector and activity.

“By improving the mental and physical wellbeing of students through practical flying activities, this balloon has the ability to help produce graduates who are ambitious, collaborative and bold – all values that the University shares as its core vision.

“We plan to work with local STEM hubs to encourage young people from disadvantaged backgrounds to pursue university degrees by promoting the positive values that hot air ballooning can teach.”

The researchers also have plans to tour the balloon both in the UK and internationally. Malik, of Strathclyde’s Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, who founded SUHABS in 2019, said: “This iconic Hot Air Balloon will be a pride and joy attraction at Strathclyde for decades to come. By visiting schools across Scotland and talking to young people from diverse backgrounds, we hope to encourage them to actively participate in hot air ballooning. This is a community investment in future generations of explorers and adventurers, and we want them to be inspired by what they can achieve.

“There are several prominent hot air ballooning festivals across the globe, from Cappadocia in Turkey to Albuquerque in New Mexico; these would be excellent opportunities to share the values of the University around the globe. With our international tours we plan to share this flagship balloon with Strathclyders worldwide.

“Having worked to build strategic partnerships with several parties over the past few years we have been successful in bringing this dream to life. Our partners at Kubicek Balloons UK and pilot Douglas Hoddinott who believe in our vision of inclusivity and social equity have supported us from design to launch. Deccan Airsports will be an important partner in touring the balloon internationally.”

Chris Lawlor, an alumnus of Strathclyde and founder of Lawlor Technologies, a key supporter of the project, said: “We always look to grow our brand differently at Lawlor Technologies and in the online era I believe this project may be a great case study on how physical marketing can generate and grow online interest through social media. We are very excited to be involved in this unique project and seeing the positive impact the University of Strathclyde generates throughout the balloon’s lifetime.”

Dr Claudia Cavalluzzo, Executive Director of Converge Challenge – Scotland’s largest company creation and enterprise programme for the university sector, a strategic partner in the project, said: “We’re delighted to have Malik working in our Enterprise team and this unique venture embodies everything that we stand for – bold, ambitious, collaborative and experimental. As soon as he told us about the hot air balloon, we had to get on board as STEM is so important to us as an organisation – indeed two thirds of applications to our annual entrepreneurship programme are in STEM subjects. We are also absolutely committed to widening access and can’t wait to see the project take off!”

Aileen Crawford, Head of Tourism & Conventions for Glasgow, said: “The University of Strathclyde is known for innovation and world-leading research, so what a great way to engage students and promote the city and University globally.”