On a
mission

Canberra's own Iron Man
is bringing smiles to sick children.

M

eet Barry Armstead. An ex-veteran of 16 years, now a suburban Canberra father of four working for ACT Parks & Conservation Service.

His alter ego? Canberra's very own Iron Man.

His mission? to bring smiles to sick children.

That mission was imagined more than five years ago, but only achieved in October.

The beginning

It all started in 2012 when Mr Armstead's son was born premature.

"We spent a lot of time in the hospital and we saw the situations that the kids are in," Mr Armstead said.

"Death and pain is always present. When we saw what other people were doing with charities and stuff like that, I thought that would be a good thing to get on board with and do my bit."

He wanted to create a different memory for the children and their families in the hospitals.

Instead of making or buying a costume where "you've got undies on the outside", Mr Armstead wanted a challenge.

"Death and pain is always present. When we saw what other people were doing with charities and stuff like that, I thought that would be a good thing to get on board with and do my bit."

He was a fan of the Iron Man movies and thought re-creating the character would be a more technical project than a Superman suit.

"All the skills you develop along the way because there's metal work, there's paint, there's rust protection - all the things you learn about the compatibility of paints and materials, glues, textiles, all the paper craft and sizing, it's a lot of mathematics, mechanical advantage and physics, the list goes on," he said.

"A lot of the stuff I have to make myself so it's not just about learning how to make the suit, it's about learning how to make the stuff to make the suit."

The making of Canberra's Iron Man

Mr Armstead spent most of his spare time in his garage. With no formal training, he experimented with paper and cardboard before crafting his own steel to build the suit.

"I've done a few projects, they get bigger and bigger all the time," he said.

"I alway bite off more than I can chew, as I did with this one.

"I made a fibre glass one and I got about halfway through it before I decided to change and then I made a cardboard one and that become the template for the metal one."

It took more than three years to finish the suit. Made of steel sheets less than a millimetre thick, it weighs just under 40 kilograms including electronics, batteries and padding.

It is fitted with a voice-changing speaker set in the body of the armor with a microphone in the chin of the helmet. LED lights turn on when he bends his wrist into the position of the stop signal, just like the high-ranking movies.

The only thing the suit can't do: fly.

Suiting Up

He also doesn't have Tony Stark's instant ability in the movies to summon his suits.

Instead Mr Armstead has to wiggle his way into the separate pieces, which are then screwed together by "Jarvis" or James Mouat and Shane Edwards, friends of Mr Armstead who he met through building the suit.

"I met a fella named James through a photographer friend of mine and he is right into the electronics," he said.

"I just told him what I wanted - gave him my concept, how I wanted it to work and he just made it happen and threw in a lot of good ideas of his own that I had no idea you could even do.

"We became quite a good team, the three of us."

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It took more than an hour for the team to put the suit on for the first time, but they have managed to reduce that to 20-30 minutes.

During the five years he worked on the concept, Mr Armstead put on nine kilograms and was not able to fit into the suit.

"I think it's just married life and being a dad and having a wife that looks after me with lots of good food," he said. "Too much time making stuff and not enough time looking after my body."

Once he lost the weight, he "slipped right in".

Mr Armstead said the suit was funded through knife making, but would not have been completed without the ongoing support of "computer geeks" via an online forum.

"They sent me power tools in the mail, they sent money, they sent me all the consumables like sandpaper and bits and pieces, just stuff to help out," he said.

"They all wanted to get on board and I actually said no in the initial stages. I didn't like free loading and they basically told me to shut up.

"I just had to graciously accept it and thought, well yeah it was for the right reasons - it's for the kids, it's not for me so with that in mind, OK."

Desire to serve

In October, Mr Armstead's mission finally happened. He visited children at Canberra Hospital with the Starlight Children's Foundation and put a smile on their faces.

"The kids were so brave and it was a heavy hit to the heart to know that some of them were there for the long haul.

"One of the mums tearfully thanked me so much, I got going on the way out and had to lower my faceplate to discreetly regain my composure."

Mr Armstead hopes to visit more hospitals and bring joy to other children.

"I feel quite honoured and humbled to be doing it.

"It's good to focus on something besides yourself, because I do a lot of that, and I suppose we all do, but it makes you feel good to do something for other people.

"It's rewarding and well worth it."

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Starlight Foundation, NSW & ACT program manager Chandra Franken said they were thrilled with Mr Armstead's support and it was wonderful to see him use his passion and creativity to support sick kids and their families.

"Big thank you to Aussie Iron Man for your incredible support of sick kids and their families in Canberra."

What's next?

Mr Armstead is in the process of building a replica of the fighter craft Viper Mark II from Battlestar Galactica.

"I've been trying mad to get the specs of the real life craft from the movie," he said.