28 Jun Three engineering siblings launch a company and the home-built airplane of their dreams
DarkAero, the company launched by the Karl brothers in 2017 after they all quit their corporate jobs and pooled their savings, has grown into a full-service provider of aerospace composites training, classes and consulting.
Growing up in tiny Frederic, Wisconsin, the Karl brothers were always tinkering. Always building something — “or taking things apart, probably more often than building things,” says oldest brother Ryley Karl, laughing.
Nobody’s laughing now. DarkAero, the company launched by the Karl brothers in 2017 after they all quit their corporate jobs and pooled their savings, has grown into a full-service provider of aerospace composites training, classes and consulting, in addition to manufacturing and selling its signature product: an experimental kit airplane called the DarkAero 1, which is headed into flight testing this summer and already has more than 150 preorders from interested customers.
“We built the DarkAero 1 initially as an airplane for ourselves, but we figured out that other people would probably want it if we did a good job of it,” says Karl of the two-person aircraft with a calculated cruising speed of 275 mph and a range of 1,700 miles. “So we made it into a company.”
Kit airplanes — officially known as “experimental amateur-built aircraft” or “experimental aircraft” — are planes that can be built from a set of instructions. To qualify as kit aircraft, planes have to be at least 51% self-built, and they are used strictly for recreational or educational purposes.
“There’s a whole industry built up around kit planes, or airplanes you can build in your garage and then fly,” says Karl. “There’s actually more kit airplanes flying than any other type of aircraft, but it’s not really well known, I think, outside of the aviation sphere.”