Apply for Skycademy 2016

Before humans took to the skies in metal tubes powered by jet engines, there was a gentler mode of transport that we used to conquer the skies: the humble balloon.

The Montgolfier brothers' first human-crewed balloon takes off at the Bois de Boulogne, Paris, on November 21, 1783

The Montgolfier brothers’ first human-crewed balloon takes off at the Bois de Boulogne, Paris, on November 21, 1783

After the success of last year’s launches, we are giving you another opportunity to blaze a trail across the sky and become a pioneer of aviation with the return of Skycademy, our High Altitude Ballooning (HAB) training programme.

Skycademy is a FREE, two-and-a-half day CPD event that provides experience of HABing to UK-based educators, demonstrating how it can be used as an engaging teaching tool. We’ll help you take ballooning to a whole new level (literally), where the hot air of Victorian era ballooning is replaced with space-age Helium to send your balloon soaring into the stratosphere at altitudes of up to 35 km. Fun fact: that’s around three times the cruising altitude of a Boeing 747!


Attached to the HAB is the payload consisting of a Pi-In-The-Sky GPS tracker board (developed by the wonderful Dave Akerman and Anthony Stirk), and a camera module, both controlled by a Raspberry Pi. You will use these elements to capture the balloon’s epic voyage and collect data to use back in your classroom.

Read more about last year’s adventures, mishaps, and balloons that were lost somewhere over the North Sea here.


See the earth from a whole new perspective.

At this point you might be thinking: “That sounds pretty cool, but I’m new to ballooning and nervous about launching into our airspace. Do we just get the kit and roll with it or do we get training?”

Enter Skycademy. Thirty lucky attendees will be guided through the steps to running a launch and, weather permitting, get hands-on experience of a real flight, so you’ll have all the experience you need before taking it back to the classroom. The event is free to attend and will be held from 8–10 August 2016. While the course is based in Cambridge, launch day will require you to travel to the launch site and then drive to recover your payload.

Training Itinerary

Day 1: Planning and workshop sessions on all aspects of HAB flights.

Day 2: Each team launches their payload, tracks, follows and recovers it.

Day 3: Teams gather together for plenary morning.

Skycademy team

A team prepares their HAB for launch.

Sharing the fun

Attendees are supported throughout the course by experienced HAB enthusiasts and the Raspberry Pi Education Team. However, the 2.5 days of training is only the start of a longer process where educators are expected to run launches at their own schools. Skycademy attendees will therefore receive the support and equipment needed to achieve this as part of a twelve-month programme.  The ultimate aim is to get young people excited and inspired by the project, and about all the STEM skills around it. A great example of this came from a successful launch by Queen Margaret’s School for Southbank Centre’s Women of the World Festival 2015:

Launch Day Butterflies

Seeing your HAB ascend majestically into the sky is both exciting and nerve-wracking. Skycademy graduate Sue Gray knows this feeling all too well after she launched at Elsworth, Cambridgeshire in May 2016:

“It was quite scary letting it go! Once it was let loose, there was no turning back.  If anything had been forgotten, it would stay that way! The balloon and payload sailed off into the bright blue sky and grew smaller and smaller as it flew away. A fantastic sight indeed.

Then it was time to pack up the launch box, wish the other teams good luck and set off on the chase.  A quick phone call to Mr Verma confirmed that he was receiving the telemetry from the payload and could see it moving across the map.

We got to Bourne a little ahead of the payload but…something was wrong.  It seemed to be hanging in the air just to the east of Peterborough and we hadn’t received any telemetry for over twenty minutes.  We stopped to take stock (and grab some food and drinks), Mr Verma confirmed that he too was not seeing any movement although he’d seen the balloon change to a parachute on the tracker – indicating a burst!”

After tracking the payload to a general area and searching the surrounding farmland, the team had to give up the search. As luck would have it, someone continued searching on their behalf and tracked it down!

These are just some of the ups and downs you can expect from a launch. Sounds like fun right? Ready to get involved?

People we are looking for:

  • UK-based educators who want to run their own High Altitude project with young people should apply.
  • Community members who want to help or support the educator launches, please comment below.




Will it be held at india?

James Robinson

The course is UK based and open to UK applicants only, how you run a High Altitude Ballooning project varies from country to country as there are laws governing the use of radio frequencies, air traffic control etc.

The content of the course and provided kit will be geared to a UK context. However we will be creating broader online guides to support people in other countries doing their own independent launches.


So, if Picademy has created Skycademy, does that mean Pinet will end up creating Skynet? ;-)

Good luck with the next set of launches!


As soon as I can get Civil Aviation Agency approval… They have been a little difficult so far, something about “increased chance of payload gaining self-awareness” or something along those lines.


I think flying in metal (or wooden, or string & brown paper) tubes propelled by piston engines came somewhere between balloons, dirigibles and jet aircraft.


Nice and great work! But such activities are not allowed and even illegal in NYC, NY-USA. It is part of the Local/State/Federal Anti-Drone Laws which where such flights can not be conducted with 5 miles of an airport and/or 1400 from an airplane.


Laws vary from country to country, and part of the course is to explain how to plan for a legal and safe flight in the UK; we don’t cover other countries. The advice includes not launching near or toward airports, and planning a flight that will land in a rural area with lots of fields, well away from cities and airports.

There is a large HAB community in the USA where the laws are actually much less restrictive than in the UK – for example no need to apply for permission for a most flights, and it’s legal to use amateur radio transmitters from the payload.

I’m not aware of either of the restrictions that you’ve mentioned, nor of a balloon being classed as a drone, however anyone wanting to launch in any country should seek advice from their local HAB community, and then if needed contact their local air traffic authority. The HAB communities can advise on radio laws as well as air legalities.



Looks to me from that …”The basic policy for the FAA is that if your payload is under six pounds, you can call up your local FAA office on the day of your launch and receive permission.” Not to say there aren’t exclusion zones near airports and other special circumstances.


What’s the cost of a HAB launch nowadays?


As a rough guide, for the balloon/gas/tracker/payload plus receiving equipment, it can be done for £500.



I would like to participate at this amazing technological fair.


Hi, I’m interested in launching but I’m not an educator. Would it be possible to attend to get info on how it’s done? Of course I’d be to happy to help as well!

Are there any other planned dates for this course as well? I’ve a friend who would love to see this in action.


Hello from the USA – I’m an Adjunct Professor at Rose State College in OKC, OK and am very interested in what you are doing with Skycademy. I know that Skycademy has not made it to the USA yet but I would that would be a consideration someday.

I would like to know if it is possible to access your course materials and/or videos of the Skycademy presentations?

Thanks You.
William Richards

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