Dark Aero 1

Ryley Karl demonstrates the split rudder of the Dark Aero 1. The rudder is cable controlled and provides both rudder and speed brake functions.

First time exhibitors, Dark Aero is three brothers with an engineering bent and a promising kit plane in the works. Called Dark Aero 1, the all-new design is completely carbon fiber, designed around the UL Power 520iS 6-cylinder engine (the first North American airframe we can think of designed around a UL Power engine) and is set for first flight in July 2019.

The company is exhibiting at AirVenture this year simply to announce their heretofore under-cover presence. The prototype airframe has yet to be assembled, but the parts on display at AirVenture were built in production tooling according to Dark Aero.

Dark Aero says their wing employs spar caps integral with the wing panels, plus ribs. The wet wing holds 77 gallons of fuel and spans 23 ft, 6 in.

Key features of the conventionally laid out design are very light weight and a zippy 275 mph cruising speed at 11 gph (255 mph at 8 gph). The 2-seat side-by-side, retractable, low-wing features a very spare 750 lb empty weight, along with a 750 lb useful load. Other juicy details are a 2500 fpm rate of climb, +6/-3 g-loading, 1700 statute  mile range at 275 mph and a 20,000 ft. ceiling, all with the 200 hp UL Power engine.

Dark Aero selected the UL Power 520iS because it provides 200 hp at about 70 lbs less than a comparable Lycoming. They also appreciate the electronic engine management (fuel and spark) and its tight packaging.

President Ryley Karl says the performance comes from reduced weight thanks to the entirely carbon fiber construction. Dark Aero--headquartered in Madison, Wisconsin--is using CNC routed molds for the carbon fiber skin/aramid honeycomb parts along with their factory jigs for all critical assemblies in an effort to reduce the labor-intensive bodywork labor common to many composite kits. The one-piece wet wing will come completely closed and should need only bolting to the fuselage.

Looking at the bottom of the Dark Aero 1 wing shows the split flap layout, and that there are no cutouts for the tricycle retractable landing gear, which is all in the fuselage.

There's also an emphasis on extra-clean aerodynamics. The flaps are split--not Fowlers with their exposed rails--for example. All control actuators are completely inside the skin (no rudder horns or aileron controls out in the breeze) and the rudder is split to double as a speed brake, thus saving the wing penetration--and weight--of conventional speed brakes.

Dark Aero really seems into black, as this ton of sandbags atop the horizontal stabilizer would suggest. They say the name seemed a natural fit because it reminded them of space, dark energy, carbon fiber and the fact they've been working on their project airplane in secret for the last year.

Karl says he's confident the $70,900 kit price is realistic while reminding it does not include the usual engine, avionics, propeller and paint.

Being built for speed--plus range and efficiency says Dark Aero--we're happy to see a 43-in. cabin width listed. We also inquired about the wing loading as a plane this light and fast could use a heavier ride, and were told to expect a suitably high 22.5 lb per square foot at max gross. Overall length is just 18 ft.

For more information see www.darkaero.com or (608) 616-9409.

Tom Wilson

Tom Wilson is a professional magazine writer and nurtures an ongoing affair with all things internal combustion. His writing is most often found in automotive magazines, but aviation is his first love. Working as a line boy, he learned to fly while in high school, but still hasn't mastered the art of keeping a paper chart in an open cockpit.

3 Replies to “Dark Aero 1”

  1. The plane being so light, I assume it will be quite aerodynamic. With that said could a smaller engine be made available, sacrificing speed and range for lower fuel burn at lower altitudes. Incorporating a ballistic chute would be a added bonus. I like the size quoted, which would fit in a home garage most likely. The 43" interior would be nice for us who are a bit bigger than we use to be.
    Will be waiting to see some pictures of a completed mockup of the airframe, hopefully soon!

  2. Those are great performance numbers. I would be more interested in a tandem design. That way you can get more elbow room with better aerodynamics.

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