2-Star Admiral Len Kaine (Retired)
“Top Gun” and Philanthropist
Captain Leonard “Len” Kaine is a “real deal” Navy Top Gun Fighter Pilot.
He began life as an unassuming coal miner’s kid with a public high school education. But with high motivation and dedication, he was able to serve his nation with distinction earning two Combat Distinguished Flying Crosses, Seven Combat Air Medals, two Navy Commendation Medals with Combat V (Valor); Navy Unit Commendation Ribbon, National Defense Medal with one Bronze Star, Vietnam Service Medal with three Bronze Stars; a Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal with Device and a ‘Command at Sea’ Star.
Kaine never set out for a naval career. Joining the Navy was a way to get the education his family couldn’t ever afford. He had it all figured out, though. If you joined before the age of 18, you could get out at 21 with access to education through the GI Bill. His plan was to attend Penn State and then work for IBM.
Kaine enlisted two days before his 18th birthday and was given a series of tests. He nailed the exams. In a matter of months, he was whisked off to flight training at NAS Pensacola, Fl as a Naval Aviation Cadet. Upon completion, and still a teen, he was commissioned as an Ensign—just like President George Bush Sr.
After receiving his Naval Aviator Wings, Kaine was ordered to NAS Oceana and then assigned to Fighter Squadron 61, flying the F3 Demon. Two years later, Kaine was the only Aviator in the squadron chosen to upgrade to the F8 Crusader—the first Navy fighter to exceed 1000 MPH.
In 1959, he finished in the top 10 percent of all F8 Crusader graduates and was sent to VF-84 at NAS Oceana. In that same year, his air-to-air gunnery skills earned him the title of both the East Coast “Top Gun” pilot and the All Navy F8 “Top Gun” pilot.
For five months in 1960, VF-84 was deployed to Rota, Spain. During that time, Len was the Skipper’s wingman performing the Blue Angel air show through Spain, southern France, and northern Italy and for the Sixth Fleet Flagship in the Mediterranean.
Beginning in April 1961, Len was assigned a three-year tour as an F8 Fighter Pilot Instructor in Jacksonville, Fl. Being conversant in French, he was also selected as an instructor for the first four French Naval Aviators to be trained in the F8. While there, he also set a modern-day Navy flight record in air combat training by flying six different aircraft types in two days.
In June 1964, Kaine was a Navigator of the USS Enterprise (CVAN-65) as part of the first Nuclear Powered Task Force to circumnavigate the globe. He narrated Fire-Power Flight Demonstrations for the Heads of 22 counties in French, Spanish, and English.
In August 1966, Kaine completed F4 Phantom training in VF-121 at NAS Miramar with the highest grades ever assigned, “according to its CO, CDR Scott Lamoreaux.”
As the conflict with Vietnam escalated in 1966, Kaine flew in VF 92 with Air Wing 9 back aboard “The Big E.” She was the first nuclear-powered carrier to engage in air combat over North Vietnam. Kaine served as the ‘Fighter Tactics Training Officer’ and ushered in the modernized, three-dimensional “Thach Weave” originally developed during WWII by Commander Jimmy Thatch’. As life often shows Kaine, it is a small world. One day in Coronado, he met his neighbor, Commander Jimmy Thatch, while taking his trash out to the back alley.
Kaine flew a total of 103 combat missions during 132 days in combat. Because of his special attributes in teaching and training other pilots, VF 92 was one of a handful of squadrons that did not lose a single plane in combat.
Kaine received the highest number of VF-92 combat nominations.
Another “Attaboy” was when USAF Colonel Robin Olds and his vice commander, Colonel Daniel ‘Chappie’ James, traveled to the “Big E” for a combat briefing with Air Wing Aviators. Kaine was asked to join them during a special, semi-private fighter tactics discussion in VF-92’s Ready Room. It was a fine meeting with Robin Olds, who had been a Triple Ace in WWII. He integrated these Navy tactics into his USAF combat program.
Following his second combat deployment to North Vietnam, Kaine left active duty. In October of 1967, Len joined the Reserves as a combat tactics instructor of VA-772’s A4s at NAS Los Alamitos, Ca.
Other assignments and accomplishments include:
• March 1969 XO & CO of VF-22L1, the first F4s at Los Alamitos.
• November 1970 CO of RTU-301 F8s NAS Miramar.
• January 1972 CO VF-301 F8s Miramar - During this assignment, VF-301 won every award available as the “Top Navy Crusader Fighter Squadron.”
• July 1973 CAG CVW-321 Miramar.
• January 1975 Reserve Staff NAS North Island.
• Apr 1977 Youngest Naval officer promoted to Captain.
• Jan 1980 Retired in Coronado with 432 carrier landings and over 4000 military flight hours.