On the flat land of Edwards Air Force Base in California, a cluster of scientists and Air Force brass watched a silvery, swept-wing jet fighter roar down the runway and into the air for a test flight. It climbed high in the air, then leveled off and shot across the air base with a roar like a thunderclap. This week Long Island's Republic Aviation Corp. proudly announced the results of the flight: its XF-91, powered by a General Electric J47 turbojet and a Reaction Motors rocket engine, had become the first U.S. combat plane to fly through the sound barrier in level flight. (Other supersonic planes, e.g., the Bell X-1 and the Douglas Skyrocket, are experimental speedsters faster than Republic's XF-91 but not designed for battle.) The XF-91 had performed the trick with an extra push from its rocket motor.
Republic made other news last week. It delivered to the Air Force its first production model of the F-84F Thunderstreak, a swept-wing version of the F-84 Thunderjet, the top fighter-bomber in Korea and a mainstay of the NATO air force. Capable of 700 m.p.h., the new Thunderstreak is powered by Britain's Sapphire engine, made in the U.S. by Curtiss-Wright (TIME, Oct. 16, 1950). It can carry a small atom bomb, has a range of more than 2,000 miles (considerably more than the current Thunder jet), and can be refueled in flight for still greater distances.
Flying High. The two new planes were the latest evidence that Republic, which went into a dive after the war, was flying high again. Both the development of the planes and Republic's present place as one of the top six U.S. planemakers are due to calculated gambles by President Mundy Ingalls Peale, 46. Peale started out as a stock salesman, but soon saw that aviation was the industry of the future. He went to work for United Aircraft, and learned the business from the ground uppiloting, production and sales. He joined Republic in 1939, became its president at 40 after a notable wartime production career.
Under Ralph Damon, now president of T.W.A., and the late Alfred Marchev, Republic racked up an impressive wartime record by turning out more than 15,000 P47 Thunderbolts. Mundy Peale's part in that program was managing Republic's Evansville, Ind. plant, which turned out more than 6,000 P-47s. But when Peale was made Republic president in early 1947, he faced problems galore.
The company had an order for 100 Thunderjets, its first jet fighter, but it was losing money on the Seabee (TIME, Sept. 17, 1945), a small private amphibian, and was $7,000,000 in the red. To make matters worse, American Airlines and Pan American Airways canceled orders for the four-engine Rainbow transport, the only transport orders Republic had. Then Peale took his first gamble; he decided to junk the Seabee program, stop trying for civilian orders, and stake Republic's future on Government contracts.