It is with deep regret that I inform you of the passing of Rear Admiral (lower half) Jimmie Wilkes Taylor on 11 July 2023 at age 89. Rear Admiral Taylor enlisted in the U.S. Naval Reserve as a naval aviation cadet in February 1957 and served as a naval aviator until his retirement in 1991 as chief of Naval Air Training. His command tours included Fighter Squadron TWO (VF-2), Navy Blue Force, Air Intercept/Air Combat Evaluation, and Training Air Wing TWO (TRAWING 2). He made six Vietnam War deployments with 188 combat missions (for which he was awarded an Air Medal with numeral 7) and commanded the first F-14 squadron fleet deployment in 1975. Jimmie Taylor attended the University of Tennessee but then decided to learn to fly at Middle Tennessee State University, earning private and commercial pilot licenses and a flight instructor certificate. He flew crop dusters in the South—crashing a couple of biplane dusters—and also worked as a flight instructor. When his number was coming up for the draft, he decided joining the Navy was a better idea.
On 28 February 1957, Jimmie Taylor enlisted in the U.S. Naval Reserve, immediately reporting for active duty and flight training. He commenced a training track that included preflight training at Naval Air Station (NAS) Pensacola, Florida, followed by flight training at Naval Auxiliary Air Station (NAAS) Saufley Field, Florida; NAAS Whiting Field, Florida; NAAS Barin, Alabama; and NAAS Kingsville, Texas. He was honorably discharged on 29 September 1958. The next day he was designated a naval aviator and commissioned an ensign in the U.S. Naval Reserve on 30 September 1958, with rank to date from 16 March 1958.
In October 1958, Ensign Taylor reported to VF-124, the F-8 Crusader fleet replacement squadron located at NAS Moffett Field, California. In July 1959, he was assigned to VF-142 at NAS Miramar, California, deploying to the Western Pacific embarked on attack carrier Oriskany (CVA-34) in 1960, serving as ordnance and welfare officer and flying the F-8 Crusader single-seat jet fighter. He was promoted to lieutenant (junior grade) in September 1959.
In November 1961, Lieutenant (j.g.) Taylor was reassigned to VF-132 at NAS Cecil Field, Florida, flying the F-8 and serving as supply officer. VF-132 was a short-lived squadron that embarked on the shakedown cruise of newly commissioned attack carrier Constellation (CVA-64), operating in the Caribbean. He was promoted to lieutenant in April 1962, before attending the Naval Justice School, Naval Base Newport, Rhode Island, in June 1962. In August 1962, Lieutenant Taylor reported to VF-174 “Hellrazors,” the Atlantic Fleet F-8U replacement squadron at NAS Cecil Field, serving as weapons training officer. In August 1965, Taylor reported to Air Test and Evaluation Squadron FOUR (VX-4) at Pacific Missile Test Center, Point Mugu, California, where he flew the C-45 Expeditor twin-engine propeller aircraft conducting evaluation of air-launched guided missiles. He augmented from the Naval Reserve into the U.S. Navy in December 1965.
In October 1965, Lieutenant Taylor was assigned to Constellation as air launch missile officer, deploying twice to Vietnam in April–October 1966 and March–August 1967, where he flew C-1 Greyhound carrier onboard delivery flights to and from South Vietnam and the carrier. He was promoted to lieutenant commander in October 1966.
In September 1967, Lieutenant Commander Taylor reported to VF-124, the West Coast F-8 fleet replacement squadron at NAS Miramar, serving as assistant operations officer. In June 1968, he was assigned to VF-51 “Screaming Eagles,” also based at NAS Miramar, serving as operations officer. He made three Vietnam War deployments with VF-51, embarked on attack carrier Bon Homme Richard (CVA-31) in June–October 1968, April–October 1969, and April–August 1970. He flew 187 of his 188 combat missions during these deployments, flying the F-8H/J Crusader and earning eight strike/flight Air Medals over North Vietnam.
In August 1970, Lieutenant Commander Taylor reported to VF-124 at NAS Miramar, serving as operations officer, where he transitioned to the new F-14 Tomcat fighter. He was the first fleet demonstration pilot for the F-14, performing at airshows across the U.S. and Europe, including the 1973 Le Bourqet Airshow in Paris, which resulted in him being nominated for the Harmon Trophy (an international award for the most outstanding aviator), receiving kudos on the editorial page of Aviation Weekly, and being the first recipient of the Grumman Topcat Award. He was promoted to commander in September 1972.
In January 1974, Commander Taylor assumed duty as executive officer of VF-2 “Bounty Hunters” at NAS Miramar, flying the F-14. In April 1975, he became commanding officer of VF-2 during nuclear attack carrier Enterprise’s (CVAN-65) deployment to the South China Sea, the first fleet deployment of the F-14. He flew the first F-14 combat mission, providing cover to the evacuation of the U.S. embassy in Saigon during the fall of South Vietnam in April 1975 (Operation Frequent Wind).
In September 1976, Taylor was assigned as officer-in-charge of the VX-4 Detachment at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada. In this capacity he served as commanding officer of the Navy Blue Force during the series of tests in 1977 known as AIMVAL-ACEVAL (Air Intercept Evaluation and Air Combat Evaluation), involving large-scale air-to-air engagements between “Red” F-5s and “Blue” F-15s and F-14s. The tests were considered “rigged” by some to justify a USAF requirement for the F-16. In December 1977, he was assigned to Naval Administrative Command, Naval Training Center, San Diego. (The service transcript states “duty under instruction” since he was awarded a bachelor’s degree in geography from San Diego State in 1979. Presumably he was attending classes to earn his long-delayed bachelor’s degree.) In June 1978, he was assigned to Alameda-based carrier Coral Sea (CV-43) as operations officer, deploying to the Arabian Sea. The carrier arrived off the coast of Iran (“Gonzo Station”) in February 1980 in reaction to the Iranian hostage crisis, supported the failed hostage rescue attempt in April 1980, and spent 102 consecutive days at sea. He was promoted to captain in September 1979.
In May 1981, Captain Taylor reported to Commander Fighter/Airborne Early Warning Wing, Pacific, at NAS Miramar, serving as chief of staff. In June 1982, he assumed command of Training Wing TWO (TRAWING 2) at NAS Kingsville, Texas. In August 1984, Taylor reported to Washington, DC, to the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations as head of Aviation Plans and Programs Division (OP-508). Among his duties was reviewing and providing recommended improvements to the script of the movie Top Gun, which he initially evaluated as “too hokey” but ultimately recommended Navy approval to support.
On 19 December 1985, Captain Taylor was designated a rear admiral (lower half) for duty in a billet commensurate with that rank and was assigned as the vice chief of Naval Education and Training that same month. He was promoted to rear admiral (lower half) on 1 July 1987. In June 1988, Rear Admiral Taylor was assigned as chief of Naval Air Training. He retired on 1 August 1991.
Rear Admiral Taylor’s awards include the Legion of Merit (at least two awards); Meritorious Service Medal; Air Medal with numeral 7; Joint Service Commendation Medal; Navy Achievement Medal; Navy Unit Commendation (three awards); Meritorious Unit Commendation; Navy Expeditionary Medal; National Defense Service Medal (two awards); Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal; Vietnam Service Medal (five campaign stars); Humanitarian Service Medal; Sea Service Deployment Ribbon; Republic of Vietnam Gallantry Cross Unit Citation; and Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal.
Following retirement from active duty, Rear Admiral Taylor served as a board member of the Pensacola-area chamber of commerce as vice chairman of armed services, overseeing “interface between the civilian and military communities with the Staff Vice President of Armed Services, maintaining consistent and proper communication with area military commands, Navy, Department of Defense and congressional delegations, and maintaining ongoing interface with local, Washington and national military active and retired leadership regarding Department of Defense and Navy programs and initiatives.” He was enshrined in the Tennessee Aviation Hall of Fame in 2013. In 2018, the Middle Tennessee chapter of the National Football Foundation and College Football Hall of fame presented him with the Fred Russell Distinguished American Award.
He was more recently active in community service on various boards and committees of the Smyrna (Tennessee) Rotary Club, Meals on Wheels, Middle Tennessee Emergency Medical Center’s Customer Care Board, Habitat for Humanity, and the TriStar StoneCrest Medical Center.
Funeral services have already been held.
Golden Eagle Rear Admiral Jimmie Taylor was an extraordinary fighter pilot and leader. With 4,988 flight hours (4,500 in jets) and 997 carrier traps, he clearly did everything he could to stay in the cockpit and out of the office. He so wanted to fly that he dropped out of college to get a pilot’s license; he didn’t even get a bachelor’s degree until he made captain, suggesting that although education is important, great leadership is what matters most. His accomplishments as a pilot were legendary, but perhaps even more important was the impact he had on the training of thousands of other naval aviators. His career is chock full of tours focused on training and imparting his extraordinary skills to others. He was one of our dwindling number of Vietnam War heroes (six deployments and 188 combat missions—187 in the Crusader and one in the F-14, the first for an F-14). He considered chief of Naval Air Training to be the best job in the entire Navy, and he achieved his dream. In typical naval aviator fashion, his path to flag rank entailed prodigious time in the air and at sea, no doubt at the cost of considerable personal and family time, for which the Navy and the nation should be grateful. His impact on the training of generations of naval aviators was truly profound and carries forth even to this day. And although he thought the script to the original Top Gun was “too hokey,” his recommendation to approve Navy support was a recruiting bonanza for naval aviation.
Rest in Peace, Admiral Taylor.