The Republic Aviation Corporation was an American aircraft manufacturer based in Farmingdale, Long Island, New York. Originally known as the Seversky Aircraft Company, the company was responsible for the design and production of many important military aircraft, including the P-47 Thunderbolt, F-84 Thunderjet, and F-105 Thunderchief.
The Seversky Aircraft Company was founded in 1931 by Alexander de Seversky, a Russian expatriate and veteran WWI pilot who had lost a leg in the war. In the beginning, many of Seversky Aircraft's designers were Russian and Georgian engineers whom Seversky had rescued from Stalin's purges by bringing them to the United States, including Michael Gregor and Alexander Kartveli, who would go on to design many of Republic's most famous aircraft.
After several failed attempts, Seversky Aircraft finally won a design competition for a new United States Army Air Corps fighter, and was awarded its first military contract in 1936 for the production of its Seversky P-35.
In 1939, Seversky Aircraft again entered in a military fighter competition, this time with the much improved AP-4. Unfortunately, the contract was instead awarded to the somewhat inferior Curtiss P-40, but the Army Air Corps were very pleased with the aircraft's medium- and high-altitude performance and ordered 13 additional AP-4s for testing.
By April 1939, the Seversky Aircraft Corporation had lost $550,000, and Seversky was forced out of the company he had founded. The board, led by financier Paul Moore, voted Wallice Kellet to replace him as president, and in September 1939, the company was reorganized as the Republic Aviation Corporation. Seversky continued to fight for his company, and the matter was not resolved to his satisfaction until September 1942.
Meanwhile, Seversky's AP-4 continued in development, finally going into production as the P-43 Lancer. 272 P-43s were eventually produced, with 108 of them being sent to China to be used against the Japanese. Many passed through the hands of the AVG Flying Tigers, whose pilots were pleased with the plane's performance at altitudes up to , while their P-40s were ineffective at altitudes over Unfortunately, Claire Chennault disliked the early P-43's lack of self-sealing fuel tanks and armor, and declined to retain the plane for his crews.
In 1939, both Republic and Curtiss participated in an Army competition to develop a lightweight interceptor. Curtiss submitted a lightweight version of the P-40 designated the XP-46 while Republic submitted a similar design designated the XP-47. Both designs were based on a lightweight aircraft built around an Allison V-1710 V-12 engine, with the Republic design using a turbosupercharger. In the end, neither design showed a significant improvement over the P-40, and neither was produced.
Further development of the P-43 continued in the form of a lightweight version using a Pratt & Whitney R-2180 radial engine. The resulting aircraft was known as the XP-44. When the R-2180 didn't produce the expected horsepower, Republic switched to the Wright R-2600. Despite possessing , this engine couldn't be turbo-supercharged and Republic finally modified the design again, this time to accommodate the enormous Pratt & Whitney R-2800 Double Wasp engine, which produced . The resulting aircraft, now known as the P-44, was truly impressive. Capable of speeds of at , and a climb rate of per minute, the aircraft would have been an exceptional interceptor. Unfortunately, the aircraft was capable of carrying no more fuel than the P-43, and the Double Wasp engine was far more thirsty, significantly limiting the aircraft's range.
As the air war in Europe progressed, the Army was discovering that what it really needed was a long range fighter capable of escorting bombers into Germany. Alexander Kartveli was called to the Army's Experimental Aircraft division and told of the new requirements, and that the P-44 would not be ordered in its current configuration. This was a devastating setback for Kartveli and Republic Aircraft because Kartveli knew the XP-44 could not be redesigned to meet these new requirements. On the train back to New York, he began sketching a new design. This aircraft would become the P-47 Thunderbolt.
The USAAF refused to give Republic any money for the development of the new XP-47B, so Republic paid for the construction of the first mock-up, reusing the cockpit area of the P-43. By the time the prototype was ready for testing, it weighed over 12,550 lb., over the Army's limit for the new fighter design, and far more than any single-engine fighter ever developed. It also could carry only 298 gallons of fuel, 17 gallons less than the requirement, but the Army was generally pleased with its performance, achieving speeds of at , and overlooked these issues.
The U.S. entry into the war in December 1941 rapidly increased the need for the XP-47B and work on the plane progressed quickly. In June 1942, the Army took delivery of its first P-47Bs. They soon placed an order that required Republic Aviation to quadruple the size of their factory and build three new runways at the Farmingdale, New York factory. Eventually this proved inadequate, and in November 1942, the Army authorized the construction of a new factory adjacent to the Evansville, Indiana airport.
Throughout the war, the P-47 would undergo constant development. A bubble canopy was added to increase backward visibility. The final version of the P-47 would be the P-47N, a long-range version with longer wings and fuselage, and an increased fuel capacity. The P-47N was designed to escort B-29s on long missions to Japan for a planned invasion of the Japanese homeland that never came. Production of all versions ended in November, 1945. By then, 15,660 P-47s had been built, making it the most produced U.S. fighter of the war. 1,816 would be the long range P-47N model. This model would continue to serve with Air Force Reserve and Air National Guard units until the mid 1950s.
In 1946, Republic temporarily left the field of military contracts to produce the Republic RC-3 Seabee, an unusual all-metal amphibian. The Seabee was the brainchild of Percival "Spence" Spencer, a former Republic P-47 test pilot. He convinced the Republic board of the need for a light sport plane to meet a demand for private aircraft from pilots returning from WWII. The expected sales of 5,000 Seabees a year never materialized, as most returning pilots never flew again, though Republic did manage to sell 1,060 Seabees in two years of production. This was a respectable number at a time when many small aircraft manufacturers were producing only a handful of aircraft before going bankrupt. Much of this was due to the Seabee's remarkably low price of just $3,500 to $6,000.
In 1946, Republic again turned its attention to military contracts, developing a single-engine jet fighter to meet an Army requirement for a fighter with a top speed of . The first YP-84A Thunderjet flew on February 28, 1946, but the aircraft was plagued with so many developmental problems that the first F-84B didn't enter Air Force service until 1949. The straight-wing F-84D would go on to become an important aircraft during the Korean War, flying 86,408 missions. In 1949, a swept-wing version, the F-84F Thunderstreak, was developed but additional development and engine problems resulted in the aircraft not entering service until 1954. A photo-reconnaissance version known as the RF-84F Thunderflash was developed from the F-84F, and 715 were produced. The final straight-wing version, known as the F-84G, would continue in service with Air National Guard units until 1971, when corrosion forced them to be withdrawn from service.
A two seat version, the F-105G, known as "Wild Weasel", was later developed to replace the "Wild Weasel" version of the F-100. The first F-105G flew on January 15, 1966, and deliveries began arriving in Southeast Asia in June 1966. This version continued operating in theater long after the ground attack versions had been withdrawn and was still in service at the end of the war.
In an effort to keep the company going, Republic proposed converting a wartime-developed four-engine reconnaissance aircraft (the XF-12 Rainbow) into a transport aircraft. The aircraft would be very fast for a prop plane, but interest from airlines was not sufficient to continue development of the aircraft and the project was cancelled.
Republic Aviation made one last attempt to survive by returning to military contracts. In 1960, Republic Aviation acquired a minority interest in the Dutch aircraft company Fokker, and attempted to market a Fokker-designed attack plane to the Air Force, but the Air Force showed little interest in the foreign design and no contracts were offered.
In the early 1960s, the aerospace company Fairchild, owned by Sherman Fairchild began purchasing Republic's stock and finally acquired Republic Aviation in July 1965. In September, Republic became the Republic Aviation Division of Fairchild Hiller and ceased to exist as an independent company.
In addition to the continued frontline use of the A-10, a number of flying and static restorations have served to sustain public awareness of Republic's role in aviation history. The American Airpower Museum, which is based on the former Republic factory site in Farmingdale, NY, maintains a collection of Republic artifacts, historic facilities, and an array of aircraft spanning the history of the company. The museum counts itself among the few worldwide that actually maintain and fly historic aircraft, and it counts an original Republic P-47D fighter among its airworthy fleet. The museum's static displays include a Republic F-84 first generation jet fighter, a rare example of the swept-wing RF-84F reconnaissance variant, and an F-105 Thunderchief that reflects Republic's late-production output. The museum's volunteer corps includes both former Republic line workers and air force veterans with direct Republic Aviation flight experience.