Albany logo unveiled on fighter jet

Albany Mayor Sharon Konopa and Veterans Day Parade Organizer Patty Louisiana talk with National Guard Pilot Major Tony Bierenkoven. (Mark Ylen/Democrat-Herald)

Mark Ylen

PORTLAND — Albany Mayor Sharon Konopa stood on a metal step ladder Thursday morning gripping a string attached to a cover that hid the new nose art affixed to an F-15D Eagle fighter jet parked in a hangar at the Oregon Air National Guard base near Portland International Airport.

Several city of Albany officials and others formed a semi-circle near the plane and counted down “3, 2, 1,” and then Konopa pulled the string and the covering fell away to reveal a black, gray and white rendering of Albany’s Train House, located at 206 Seventh Ave. S.W.

St. Mary’s Catholic Church owns the Victorian-era home.

Tech Sgt. Aaron Perkins of Portland created the design.

When Konopa saw the image she said “All right,” and then the group clapped.

Guests moved in to get a closer look at the gray-colored, camouflaged plane that cost $35 million new and $21,000 an hour to operate. Participants pointed to the muted Air Force insignia and gazed at the names of the plane’s pilot, Capt. J. Yeates and his crew chief, J. Thompson.

With that short dedication ceremony, the city of Albany became the 12th Oregon city selected for the Air Guard’s Cities of Honor program. Albany was chosen because of its enthusiastic support of veterans and because the city hosts what is called the largest Veterans Day Parade west of the Mississippi River.

Guests, who lined up to have their photographs taken next to the fighter learned that the plane has only has six minutes of fuel remaining after a pilot switches on its afterburners. Later, the group was invited to climb the steps on the other side of the plane that led to the cockpit, where Maj. Tony Bierenkoven, nicknamed “The Baron,” was waiting.

The major explained the workings of the dials and sticks and then posed for pictures with guests.

When Konopa came down from viewing the cockpit she said, “I can’t imagine going up in one of those planes. My stomach would never be able to handle that. No thank you.”

Before the group left the hangar, Col. Rick Wedan called everyone over to say he had a presentation to make.

He stood near a small stand covered in blue cloth. He lifted the cover to show a framed picture of two flying F-15s, two shoulder patches worn by the base’s pilots and a plaque that read: “Mayor of Albany. Sharon Konopa. The proud men and women of the 142nd Fighter Wing wish to thank you for your support of the Oregon National Guard by dedicating an F-15 in the honor of your great city. November 15, 2012.”

“My eyes just teared up when I saw my name on the plaque,” Konopa said. “We need to put this someplace where people can see it at city hall.”

City Manager Wes Hare suggested the council chambers, “where it would be seen by the most people.”

Before the dedication, the group gathered in a small auditorium to see a video about F-15s and to hear Wedan detail the fighter wing’s role in protecting the Pacific Northwest. Pilots and planes also take part in worldwide deployments.

He explained that nose art was a common feature on combat aircraft during World War II to personalize the planes and to boost unit morale. Following the Vietnam War, nose art was banned, but it made a return in the 1990s.

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