Born Eric Cookson, he had joined the RAF in 1980 and was trained to fly in Top Gun combat planes. Flight Lieutenant Eric Cookson flew regular sorties in Phantom F4 fighters and Bae Hawkes. He has flown missions over some of the world's most dangerous war zones.
While serving at RAF Leuchars in Fife during the Cold War, he was involved in intercepting a total of 33 Soviet patrol planes. In 1992, he switched to helicopters and worked their weapons detection systems. He was involved in front line operations in the buildup to the Gulf War and the Bosnia conflict and has campaign medals from both. But he felt he was a woman entrapped in a male body.
When the strain of the double life because too much, Flt-Lt Cookson went to see RAF doctors, who agreed he should have a sex change. But before having the operation, a patient must prove he can live as a woman for several months.
Flt-Lt Cookson was given permission to dress in women's clothes and was transferred to a ground posting. He served as a female officer at several bases including RAF Chivenor in Devon, Benson in Oxfordshire and Coningsby, Lincolnshire.
Finally, in 2000, he had the operation, for which he paid $46,979, and was agreed by the RAF. Flight Lieutenant Eric Cookson is now Caroline Paige, the service's first transsexual. She is now waiting to return to flying duties.
After convalescing following the operation, Flt-Lt Paige, who earns $103,000 a year, will return to duty as one of only 116 female fliers alongside the RAF's 4246 male pilots and navigators. She admits hoping at one time to keep her sex swap a secret. Flt-Lt Paige has nothing but praise for the RAF. Her family, however, have found the change hard to accept.