Most people will leave their backyard projects at a slash and burn of the periwinkle, a new retaining wall, vegetable plot, and maybe even a pizza oven in their most ambitious moments.
Not so for Baz Am. The 52-year-old is constructing a life-size spaceship in his Canberra backyard, measuring 8.4 metres long and weighing close to a tonne.
Science-fiction buffs will recognise it as the Colonial Viper Mark II from the Battlestar Galactica series, the primary fighter spacecraft for the ‘good guys’.
“It’s not really heavy; it’s just really big,” Baz says.
“You can sit in it, and there’s some interaction in the form of some buttons, lights and switches. There are turbine noises piped through big subwoofers to simulate the engine noise, and there are landing lights on the front.”
Baz started the build four years ago, and he estimates there is another year to go. He’s a busy man, with a full-time job and three kids, but he’s out in the shed whenever there’s a spare moment in the evening.
“It has to be skinned in fibreglass and then sanded and painted,” he says.
“I’m also thinking about putting a reaction-control system in it, which is what modern spacecraft use for changing direction and attitude, where there is a little burst coming out of a pressure tank somewhere.”
Like many big projects, Baz says it’s the finishing that takes the time, not the main bulk of the building. And he should know. The Colonial Viper MKII is far from his first project.
Baz is probably most famous for his Ironman suit. He dons the astonishingly accurate metal clothes to bring smiles to charity fundraisers for Starlight Children’s Foundation, Rise Above Cancer Convoy and Ronald McDonald House.
“I’ve always been arty,” he says.
It all began when he worked as a ranger at the Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve.
“During inclement weather, when everybody else would duck inside and hide, I would go into the workshop and weld together scrap bits of metal.”
Baz is responsible for a lot of the steel artworks now erected around the national park.
“I did some wallabies, a large platypus, a snake, and a couple of chainsaw carvings around the place.”
Back at home, he would make knives as thank-you presents for those supporting his Ironman pursuits. This later landed him a job at a forge in Tharwa, making knives for a living. But he was ready for another project in his spare moments, and he turned to his youth for inspiration.
“We all grew up with certain things as kids, and I grew up with Battlestar Galactica and Star Wars,” he says.
The challenging technical aspects of the Ironman suit attracted Baz to the project, and it was the same with the Colonial Viper.
“When the new series of Battlestar Galactica arrived in 2003, I was really impressed by the modern take on the Colonial Viper and the fact they had employed actual physics in space flight instead of the aerodynamic rubbish in Star Wars.”
It started as cardboard before Baz realised he needed something more serious and turned to his favourite building material – scraps.
“I welded together a metal frame, with plywood formers spaced to give shape and proportion,” he says.
The engine is an industrial BBQ rotisserie, hooked up to some bicycle gearing via homemade drive shafts, pulleys and belts.
“I’ve slowly been fitting out the inside with electronics screens and aircraft instruments after aviators from all over Australia have sent me broken and uncalibrated instruments.”
So, after all this, will it fly?
“That’s the number one question I get,” Baz laughs.
“Sure, in the real world, if you put enough propulsion in it, it would actually work.”
Ironman was on a mission to support sick kids, while Baz says the Colonial Viper is more a “52-year-old bloke in a shed being a nerd and having a good time”.
That said, between work and family commitments, he hopes it can make an appearance at children’s charities. But for this, he needs a trailer that can take the finished product.
“It could be someone’s old car trailer that’s no good anymore,” he says.
“I can fix it and modify it and put sides and a roof on it and all that.”
Come the day when it rolls out of the shed on three heavy-duty steel-framed dollies, Baz says he’ll settle down to smaller projects.
“You see people doing plastic model kits of cars, planes, and ships. I much prefer to build stuff from whatever I can find and do stuff that’s a little larger in scale,” he says.
“I was thinking about building a life-size Stargate out the front of the house, but my wife wouldn’t have it.”