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The University of Southampton

Dr Angelo Grubisic: A tribute

Published: 2 September 2020
Dr Angelo Grubisic
Dr Angelo Grubisic

Dr Angelo Grubisic’s goal was to break world records for flying as far, as fast, for as long and from as high an altitude as possible in a wingsuit, an aerodynamic overall with fabric wings at the arms. He leapt from mountains or aircraft to glide toward the ground before deploying his parachute. Wingsuit-flying and base jumping were Angelo’s passions. He was described as ‘Rocket Man’ or ‘Jet Man’ for his stunts in which he took off and flew James Bond-style in a suit powered by jet engines on his arms and back.

While training for those world records, he jumped from a helicopter over the Asir Mountains of south-western Saudi Arabia on 21 August 2019 and, according to three fellow fliers, performed a 360-degree barrel roll. Known as a ‘proximity flier’ – one who stays close to the landscape – he hit a ridge and was killed. He was 38.

Angelo was a well-respected and much-liked Lecturer in Aeronautics and Advanced Propulsion at the University of Southampton. He specialised in the development and testing of advanced propulsion systems for spacecraft in support of the European Space Agency (ESA) and NASA. He was a consulting engineer for the ESA during its BepiColombo mission to Mercury, a joint project with the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency using two satellites that are due to reach Mercury’s orbit in 2025. Angelo was also a consultant to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, which is involved in exploration research on Mars, including probing the possibility of life on the Red Planet.

Angelo’s sister Karina credits their grandfather as Angelo’s inspiration to take to the skies: “Our grandad, Tom, was a huge influence on us growing up, always there to help my Mum raise us and a great teacher. He was an avid skydiver, the oldest in the UK at one time and made his last jump aged 80. We would spend many weekends watching him skydive and Angelo was certainly inspired by him – he was Angelo’s real-life superhero.”

Angelo studied Aerospace Technology at Coventry University, obtaining a Bachelor of Engineering degree in 2003. At the International Space University in France he received a Master’s degree in Space Studies in 2005. He completed a Doctorate in Advanced Propulsion at Southampton in 2009 and attended a joint post doctorate fellowship programme with Southampton and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. 

One of his students said of him: “It’s safe to say he was by far the best teacher I have ever had. He was passionate about what he did and wanted to instil this in every student that he took under his wing. Angelo openly encouraged students to just work towards what they would love to do – even if that wasn’t engineering – because he said it is better to be happy than to be good at something you don’t enjoy.”

Colleagues at Southampton are erecting a memorial bench for Angelo. It will sit in Engineering Square near to his office and Building 7 where he gave many lectures.

Professor Bharathram Ganapathisubramani worked with him. He said: “Angelo was a great colleague, full of energy and passion. We remained impressed with his passion for Aerospace Propulsion and his ability to convey that passion to his undergraduate and postgraduate students. He was very driven to excel in his research and this drive and determination was crucial to the establishment of the David Fearn Propulsion Laboratory. He is sorely missed.”

Angelo’s mother and sister are in the process of setting up the Dr Angelo Grubisic Young Engineers Fund, a foundation which aims to help creative and passionate individuals from underprivileged backgrounds towards careers in STEM by offering sponsorship for their post-secondary education. Karina said: “We hope that, in his death, Angelo's legacy will live on by helping to nurture the next generation of engineers and pioneers who will continue to inspire others and move this world forward in a positive way.”

Angelo Grubisic, space scientist and wingsuit flyer, born 24 June 1981, died 21 August 2019.

You can also read the full tribute to Dr Angelo Grubisic in the latest Re:action magazine, which is dedicated to space-related research at Southampton

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