UW Student Story: ‘DarkAero’ creating better ways to fly with personal aircraft design

UW Student Story: ‘DarkAero’ creating better ways to fly with personal aircraft design

By Andy Moy


The history of aviation began with two famous brothers, Orville and Wilbur Wright. They were able to build and fly the first successful motorized aircraft. The next chapter may be written by three Wisconsin brothers.

DarkAero Inc is a team of three brothers (Ryley, River, and Keegan Karl) who have invented a two-seat kit aircraft designed to carry up to 750 pounds. It is shipped to the customer as a set of parts that are assembled in the space of a two-car garage. The complete cost for the DarkAero 1 kit comes is $140,000.

It’s a design that gives buyers the ability to conveniently fly fast enough to beat the door-to-door times of commercial domestic flights and to fly far enough to reach either coast nonstop.

“We think of it as the ultimate vehicle for exploring the planet,” said River Karl, one of three brothers born in western Wisconsin.

Each member of the team brings a mix of skills to the project:

  • Ryley Karl, president, UW-Madison 2008 graduate in Engineering Mechanics. He is a pilot and kit aircraft builder with nine years of industry experience in manufacturing
  • Keegan Karl, vice president, UW-Madison 2010 graduate in Mechanical Engineering. He has two years of industry experience in engineering product development and four years in engineering management
  • River Karl, vice president, UW-Madison 2012 graduate in Electrical Engineering. He has a year’s industry experience in industrial automation and four years in software development

What makes the DarkAero 1 different from other self-build aircraft is the performance and build experience. The brothers developed a new airframe structural approach called Hollow Grid, which maintains normal airframe strength while at a reduced weight.

Having less weight allows the aircraft to fly faster and farther than competitors without the expense of a costlier engine. The parts of the DarkAero 1 are also constructed using precision-machined molds, in contrast to other competitors who use hand-sculpted molds. This results in eliminating many hours of hand-sanding and sculpting to achieve the perfect final part.

DarkAero’s closest competitors are other high-performance kit-aircraft companies such as Lancair, which offers the Barracuda: a two-seat aircraft kit with a 1,381-mile range and 219 miles per hour maximum cruise speed; and Van’s Aircraft, which offers the RV-7A: a two-seat aircraft kit with a 938-mile range and 195 mph maximum cruise speed.

Currently, there are more than 27,000 active registered kits licensed by the Federal Aviation Administration with a growth rate of 1.3 percent annually.

DarkAero Inc. is seeking $100,000 in capital to begin production. These funds would be used in the first year of production to move into a bigger facility ($30,000) and thus improve the efficiency of manufacturing production. The team would also purchase equipment ($10,000) for refining the production process and improve part quality. Much of the money will go towards marketing the aircraft, by hiring a part-time marketing expert to help bring more awareness on social media and videography for YouTube ($40,000). The rest of the money will purchase new testing equipment to further optimize and improve the product to lower future revisions.

The company is a member of the “Diligent Dozen” in the 2019 Wisconsin Governor’s Business Plan contest and will present June 4-5 at the Wisconsin Entrepreneurs’ Conference in Milwaukee.

 Moy is a student in the UW-Madison Department of Life Sciences Communication.