In Search of the Ultimate Kit Aircraft: DarkAero 1, Chapter 1

By Richard Visscher, EAA Lifetime 576197

Back in 2018 I flew to AirVenture Oshkosh and brought along my friend Dave Schuh, EAA 1287162, who was going to purchase an RV-14 kit and was intent on taking all the classes on riveting, engines, etc. I, on the other hand, was wanting to go and see new kits that were available. So, I was on the prowl at AirVenture for a carbon fiber, new kitplane. I’ve always had an affinity for speed and that along with a two-seater and fuel efficiency were my only criteria.

I stumbled upon the DarkAero prototype display in the homebuilt section where they had a wing and tail section on display. The tail section was loaded up with a stack of sandbags to demonstrate the incredible strength. I spent quite a bit of time interrogating the founders and learnt that they are three brothers from Madison, Wisconsin; Ryley Karl, EAA 864404, being the oldest is an aeronautical engineer, Keegan Karl is a mechanical engineer, and River Karl is an electrical engineer. I myself am an engineer and I was easily able to “speak their language.”

They showed me lot of the computer modeling software and other interesting things for an engineer. What impressed me the most was their professionalism, genius, ingenuity, and grasp of the mission, which is spelled out on their website. They have been working on the prototype full-time since 2017. It did not take me long to get hooked.

I was following the progress on the Raptor composite canard aircraft and had put a deposit on that, position holder 1,128 out of 1,500 deposits. I noticed that several early deposit holders were reselling their positions at a very healthy profit to others that were anxious to get a jump on the lineup and not have to wait the several years that it was going to take otherwise. The other thing I noticed was that the deposit was refundable and eventually I elected to get my deposit back as did several others. The Raptor is a very complex aircraft with an unproven engine and a lot of extra innovative features that I did not feel I needed.

So back to my story, the first day I met the Karl brothers I said I’d like to put a deposit on a kit. They said that they were not taking deposits at this time. Undeterred I went back the next day and insisted that I put a deposit down. They had a request from someone else and as a result he became position holder one and I became position holder two. So, at that point in time the waiting game began. I ate up everything I could on the DarkAero 1 including its Instagram and Facebook posts, YouTube videos as well as the company’s monthly newsletters. I was able to call and chat with the brothers and discuss their progress.

At AirVenture 2019 I went to see them. They were in the Innovation Showcase and had the fuselage, tail, and wings on display. They had a lot of interest in the DarkAero 1 but the other thing that I noticed was that it wasn’t only the three Karl Brothers but their girlfriends and families that were in the booth! They all knew me, so I rapidly felt like one of the family.

The assembled components.

Here are the specifications on the DarkAero and you can see why it is so exciting:

DarkAero 1 Specs

Cruise Speed                        275 mph

Stall Speed                          70 mph

Rate of Climb                        2,500 fpm

Ceiling                                   20,000 feet

Range at 275 mph               1700 statute miles

Engine                                   UL Power UL520iS

Horsepower                          200 hp

Fuel Burn                               11 gph

Fuel Capacity                       77 US gallons

G Loading                             Normal Category

Landing Gear                        Tricycle Retractable

Useful Load                           750 pounds

Empty Weight                       750 pounds

Wingspan                              23 feet, 5 inches

Length                                    18 feet

Cockpit Width                       43 inches

Wing Area                              66 sq. feet

Some things of note are:

  • It only comes in a quick-build kit with the wings and the fuselage assembled and no need for jigs during your build process.
  • Ryley Karl designed the DarkAero 1 around the UL 520iS engine, 200 hp and modern electronics.
  • The panel is ample to fit Garmin G3X touch screen(s) and IFR WAAS GPS.
  • I ran all the numbers and the price is correct at between $140,000 to $160,000 USD for the kit and components.
  • They are sharing ongoing updates in a Knowledge Base on their website.

I will be going into more detail in future articles but for now you may want to consider putting a deposit on a DarkAero 1 kit before there are too many people in line! We already have six of us in British Columbia that are position holders! Each position holder has a different story:

  • One loves the performance but is not a builder, we are certain that someone will step forward in exchange for a share.
  • Another is not in a position to build it now but will be in a couple of years.
  • Another is not even a pilot yet, but his brother is.
  • Another is not a pilot, but he wants to get his licence very soon.
  • And another already has an airplane but see this as so much better.

As for me, my plan is to go to the factory and build mine there. After getting the kinks out of the build process and instructions under the watchful eyes of the Karl brothers and then flying it home to Kelowna, I’ll be able to help other Canadian builders and West Coast U.S. builders.

To be continued….

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