This article is reprinted from Woman Pilot Magazine:
If you run into Caro Bayley Bosca, be sure to ask her about her experiences in the WASP and about flying a Piper Cub Supercruiser to 30,023 feet. That’s right, she took a Cub to over thirty thousand feet in 1951. But in case you don’t get a chance to meet her, I’ll tell you a little something about her.
To celebrate her graduation from college, Caro’s Dad paid for her flight training because he knew she had a "yearning to fly." Caro worked in the message office at Patterson Field and built up her flight time and experience. When Jacqueline Cochran began training women for the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP), Caro says, "I couldn’t believe my luck!" Part of her motivation to join the WASP came "in wanting to do something for the war effort. If I had not loved flying so, I would have done something else for the war effort. Since this program opened up I would have volunteered for free!" Caro became part of class 43-W-7 and trained with her fellow WASP in Sweetwater, Texas.
After graduating from WASP training, Caro went with twenty other women from 43-7 to Mather Field in Sacramento for B-25 school. She remembers, "We all got along fine and it was good training and experience." From Mather, Caro and nine others headed to El Paso, Texas "to work with the tow target squadron working with the radar school at Ft. Bliss." They carried out a variety of duties in a number of different planes. "We had radar tracking (lots of it), search light tracking simulation strafing, gassing, non-flying personnel flights (observing), and some sleeve towing." Each mission called for a different plane and they flew everything from the Douglas Dauntless (SBD and A24), and Curtis Helldiver (SB2C and A-25), to the Republic Thunderbolt (P-47). The P47 was their first pursuit plane. The day that Caro was supposed to fly it for the first time she had bursitis in her shoulder so bad she couldn’t do her hair, but when she went to breakfast and was asked how her shoulder was she said, "Just fine, just fine," because she didn’t want to give up her turn to fly.
When the WASP were disbanded in December 1944, Caro didn’t have any plans for after the war, but she wanted to keep flying. In January 1945 she went to Miami with five other WASP and rented a house they named the "WASP Nest." According to Caro they "had a great time and had parties every night." Four of the women got their instructor rating in one of the women’s Taylorcraft and they all tried to find jobs in aviation. They were in Miami as the war was drawing to a close and Caro argues that it was difficult to find a job because so many male pilots were coming back. Employers were more willing to give jobs to the men.
Despite a short period of putting together little turtles made out of seashells, Caro and her fellow WASP did find some flying work. They ferried planes, flight instructed, and Caro worked as a mechanic. She explains that she wasn’t hired for her mechanical skills: "I was the only one small enough for certain jobs - inside the tail of a Piper Cub for instance." While working in southern Florida, Caro was approached by Jess Bristow to join his air show. Caro was thrilled and claims she was "born for aerobatics."
In the late 1940s women fliers were still a bit of a novelty, and so promoters thought an all women airshow would bring in the crowds. Caro joined and did a sailplane act. She borrowed a Tico Tico sailplane from a Pan American pilot who was "all for having girls fly," and practiced a bit before the first airshow. For the show Caro explains "I had a girl tow me up to about 5,000 feet and made big circles and loops and some wing overs, and went by [the crowd] real fast because they like to hear the noise. Meanwhile, the wind had picked up and I was going to come in real slow. I was crabbing in toward the crowd and there was a bird doing the same thing. And of course it was real quiet.... A little boy in the crowd said, ‘Look mom, the bird’s doing the same thing the girl is doing.’ It was very effective."
While a part of the women’s airshow, Caro had an opportunity to fly Betty Skelton’s Pitts Special, "Lil Stinker," and knew that was the plane for her. Caro’s father agreed to buy one for her to use in airshows and Curtis Pitts finished one up for her. "It fit me perfectly - rudder pedals just right, throttle perfect, etc." Caro had entered aerobatic competitions before but admits, "I never won until I had Curtis Pitts build me a Pitts Special." Caro competed in 1951 and became the women’s international aerobatic champion. It was on the very same day she won the championship that she flew that Cub. "BLONDE SETS NEW ALTITUDE MARK" screamed a Miami paper. The Piper Aircraft Corporation press release explained, "The plane was a standard 1951 two-place Piper Super Cub, model PA-18, with an unsupercharged 125 horsepower Lycoming engine, widely used for industrial flying, crop dusting and spraying, and general utility work." Caro describes the flight. "Before the aerobatic competition, I took off from the blimp base on the causeway in Miami ... I took off, had oxygen and a barograph (an instrument for measuring altitude), was up for about four hours, came down, then did my aerobatic act. The temperature was ninety on the ground and was thirty-four degrees below zero at altitude. The Cub went up to fifteen [thousand feet] nicely, but up to twenty it was a bit draggy. By the time I hit thirty I stayed at one altitude for a long time."
It may have been a long flight, but Caro enjoyed it. There was no wind that day. "If there’d been any wind I would have had to fight to keep on the peninsula. I made a huge circle - Palm Beach, West Palm Beach, Naples, down almost to the Keys and back up. And you look down and you can’t see any people. You can see the roads but nothing on the roads. The only thing you can see is the trail behind the boats - you can’t see the boats, but you can see the trail." Caro eventually reached an actual altitude of 30,203 feet. "And this was before the airlines went to 30,000 feet." The Federation Aeronautique Internationale recognized Caro’s achievement as a world record for Class 11 aircraft. The Class 11 aircraft category is defined as those aircraft with a weight of between 1,102 and 2,204 pounds. Caro’s record held until 1984 when it was broken by a 210 horsepower Mooney that flew to 33,732 feet. A Hoffman HK-36 from Austria holds the current record of 36,188 feet. When Caro finally came down, there were lots of pictures and reporters, and despite the news article’s claim that she was "tired but happy," Caro then climbed into her Pitts Special and went into competition. "I must have had more strength in those days!"
Despite these successes, Caro’s days as a pilot were numbered. In 1951 a young man came down from Springfield, Ohio (Caro’s home town) and asked her if she knew any girls to date. Caro responded, "’I’m a girl and I’m just as hungry as any other girl down here.’ He said, ‘Oh, I thought you were a mechanic.’ I said, ’I’m that, too’ - not explaining I was just good for crawling into the tail of a J-3 Cub. So we fell in love. He was different from the pilots around the airport - and he had a job!" Caro flew her last airshow the week before she got married in September 1951, at age twenty-nine. She quickly had four children in five years and gave up her beloved Pitts Special, something she regrets to this day. But she raised her kids, traveled, and had a fun life. In 1972, at the age of fifty, Caro and her brother bought a Cessna 182 and kept it for twenty years. Caro flew two races, one with her daughter, Marcy, doing much of the flying. She doesn’t do any flying today, but attends WASP reunions and makes it to Oshkosh every year. If you see her walking around or over in the WASP tent, be sure to say hello to her. And ask about that Cub. It sounds like quite a ride!