Former head of the Women's Royal Air Force

Born: March 13, 1931;

Died: June 2, 2016

HELEN Renton, who has died aged 85, was the first Scot to become director of the Women's Royal Air Force (WRAF), serving as what her staff called "Queen Bee" from 1980-86, including during the Falklands conflict which led to greater roles for Air Force women.

With the rise of women in formerly male-only jobs, including operational fighter pilots, the WRAF merged into the RAF in 1994. Helen Renton's tenure as director had very much nudged the RAF into accepting gender equality and she could be said to have led the transition from separate male and female Air Forces to the female-friendly RAF of today.

Another Scot, the botanist and suffragette Dame Helen Gwynne-Vaughan, a Fraser by birth, had helped build the WRAF at the end of the Great War but her title was Commandant and the title Director was introduced only when the WRAF was reincarnated after the Second World War.

In addition to heading the WRAF, Miss Renton also served as honorary aide-de-camp (ADC) to the Queen during the eighties, a largely ceremonial role which allowed her to wear an aiguillette and the Queen's monogram on her WRAF uniform.

The WRAF was first set up during the last year of the Great War, initially to provide female aircraft mechanics in order to free up men for combat roles. Considered unnecessary after that war, it was disbanded in 1920. With the onset of the Second World War in 1939, a new Women's Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) was set up with Scotswoman Jane Trefusis Forbes of Pitlochry in charge. The WAAFs did not fly - although civilian women famously did in the separate Air Transport Auxiliary (ATT) - but played a major role in the war including as vital operations room plotters during the Battle of Britain and beyond. In 1949, as the UK returned to normal, the WAAF was renamed the Women's Royal Air Force and its head given the title of director.

Helen Renton was born in Denny on March 13, 1931, the youngest of three daughters. She attended Stirling High School before graduating from the University of Glasgow with an MA. Being the "baby" of a sheltered family, she recalled, gave her the urge to seek wider horizons. After a postgraduate year of business studies at Glasgow, she made a life-changing decision in 1954. She took a day-trip to Edinburgh, a relatively big thing in those days, joined the Women's Royal Air Force and returned to give the news to her dad.

After two months' training as an officer cadet, she did a course in accounting and in 1956 was named junior accounts officer at RAF Spitalgate in Grantham, Lincolnshire, which had been a wartime base for our Polish allies. She became a Flight Commander in England, the Isle of Man, Germany (1967-68) and Cyprus (1960-62), falling in love with the Mediterranean island as most visitors do.

After joining the directorate of the WRAF in London, she wangled a return to Cyprus with the rank of Wing Commander. The fact that she outranked many male RAF personnel made her the butt of chauvinistic "humour" but within days the males realised she also outranked most of them in experience, intelligence, determination and moral fortitude. She was the most senior female air force officer at the headquarters of Britain's Near East Air Force on Cyprus, based at RAF Nicosia and RAF Akrotiri. She was promoted to Group Captain in 1977.

Promoted to Air Commodore and appointed WRAF director in 1980, when she was 48, she returned to its headquarters as London to find herself with a plush office and a male RAF sergeant as her secretary/personal assistant. Her reputation had preceded her and the chauvinist jokes from male RAF personnel were highly subdued, even in their local pubs. Although she also had a chauffeur (a young female corporal), Miss Renton preferred to walk from her flat across Green Park and then take a bus.

She was in charge of the WRAF during the 1982 Falklands war and although her servicewomen were not directly involved in the conflict, she and they played a major role in supporting active RAF personnel and their families back home. After the British victory, she sent 20 of her female officers and servicewomen to the remote Ascension Island in the South Atlantic to help with air traffic control for RAF aircraft on the long flights between the UK and the Falklands.

In 1997, Air Commodore Renton co-wrote the book Service Women as a guide to young women interested in joining the services. In 1981, her old university, Glasgow, awarded her an honorary doctorate of law (LL.D) as part of tercentenary celebrations of Viscount Stair's Institutions of the Law of Scotland. The Queen made her a Companion of the Order of Bath (CB) in 1982.

Air Commodore Renton died in Peterborough, Cambridgeshire. She never married, once telling The Herald: "the years have been so full there's not been time. (I feel) children and military life are incompatible."