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Ron Pearson, 75, who served as a Royal Air Force air traffic controller at RAF Mildenhall, England, in 1950, makes the final radio transmission from the control tower at the base Sunday afternoon. A new tower is now working. The final radio call was made to a British Lancaster bomber from World War II that flew low over the base.
Ron Pearson, 75, who served as a Royal Air Force air traffic controller at RAF Mildenhall, England, in 1950, makes the final radio transmission from the control tower at the base Sunday afternoon. A new tower is now working. The final radio call was made to a British Lancaster bomber from World War II that flew low over the base. (Ron Jensen / S&S)

RAF MILDENHALL, England — The squat, two-story brick air traffic control tower at RAF Mildenhall, England, has played a role in military operations from the Battle of Britain to Operation Iraqi Freedom.

But it signed off Sunday afternoon, giving way to a new and taller tower that already is up and running.

“RAF Mildenhall tower, Building 662, is over and out,” Ron Pearson said into a radio microphone Sunday as three World War II vintage aircraft disappeared from view.

Pearson, 75, served as an air traffic controller with the Royal Air Force at the base in 1950 when the U.S. Air Force arrived.

He was invited to make the final radio transmission from the old tower, which will be demolished in July. Air traffic control duties have been performed from the new tower, which is 110-feet tall, since April 17.

Pearson’s final call was made to a Lancaster bomber, which swept over the base flanked by Spitfire and Hurricane fighters. All three of the aircraft played major roles in World War II.

The base opened 70 years ago as the winds of war were blowing on the Continent. On Sept. 3, 1939, six hours after Britain declared war on Germany, sorties were launched from the base.

On June 6, 1944, the base sent 35 Lancasters to bomb the beaches of Normandy in advance of the D-Day invasion force.

The tower continued its service through decades of the Cold War and beyond.

“It is the pilots who usually receive the glory, but today we pay tribute to the unsung heroes, the men and women who support the mission from the ground,” said Col. Richard Devereaux, commander of the 100th Air Refueling Wing.

He spoke to about 100 invited guests, mostly local mayors, councilors and other officials, who sat in the sunlight and listened to Pearson’s historic transmission over loudspeakers as the aircraft made two passes over the base.

“This is RAF Mildenhall tower signing off after 70 years of service,” Pearson said as the shadow of the planes swept over him. “We salute the men and women who served our nations for the cause of freedom. RAF Mildenhall tower, Building 662, is over and out.”

Senior Master Sgt. Robert Braun, a controller with the 100th Operations Support Squadron, watched Pearson’s call from a few feet away on the tower catwalk.

“There’s a lot of historical character and charm that you have in a building like this,” he said. “There is a sense of sadness among the controllers.”

The new tower is more modern and its nine-story height makes it the most prominent feature of a landscape no less flat than the flight line.

For his part, Pearson said he was touched to be asked to make the final radio call from the tower at the base where he served more than half a century ago.

“I think it’s absolutely wonderful,” he said. “I feel I’m doing this for all the people who were air traffic controllers at Mildenhall.”

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