Norco, Calif. —
A glimmer of morning rises through evergreen trees along slopes of weathered granite, as rays of California orange expose the red clay rooftops of neatly groomed rows of American dreams. Above it all, perched proudly above the charming town of Rancho Cucamonga, rests the beauty and grandeur of Cucamonga Peak.
“I had always looked at Cucamonga Peak and knew one day I wanted to fly it,” says Taylor Cole, as he sits on a plane to his next adventure. Fly it, he would.
Far from home, jet engines vibrate Taylor’s seat at 35-thousand feet in the air, as he recalls his last 35 years of life. He shares photos of his four-year-old daughter and talks about the business she inspired to bring children’s books to life through light and sound. He chats about piloting planes and the joy it brings her each time they brush the sky. A grin appears when he recalls the time he became a finalist on the game show “Wipe Out,” and how he loves to cruise through the streets of Los Angeles on his banged-up unicycle. Taylor flips through image after image, story after story – of risk and reward, calculation and chance, passion and success – of a life he designed.
“It’s easy to misunderstand me and see a person that is all over the place. I just don’t see it that way,” says Taylor.
Along the way, Taylor has adopted many skills and talents. One, in particular – skydiving and BASE jumping – runs through his veins. He has jumped from planes, buildings, towers and cliffs more than a thousand times. In June, his team “Too Wrapped Up” took gold in the four-way canopy formation in Lake Wales, Fla. at the National Parachuting Championships. In the province of Chongqing, China, Taylor leapt from the world’s largest glass-bottom skywalk, 2,300 feet over the Yangtze River, for a televised audience of a million. More than a thousand times, he has taken the leap of faith armed with nothing more than a pack on his back, smile on his face, and battle cry of “Yeah buddy!” Taylor Cole is considered one of the top BASE jumpers in the world, showered with sponsors. And that’s just the beginning.
Most of Taylor’s mornings actually begin with two feet on the ground. As he approaches the front gate of Naval Surface Warfare Center Corona, he puts on his engineer’s hat and joins the thousands of other like-minded innovators who have passed through the same turnstiles in support of the warfighter. Taylor began working at Corona in 2003, with a bachelor’s in mechanical engineering from the University of California, Riverside. “I started in Force Training as a range guy working electronic warfare systems,” he says. “I loved this job as a younger engineer but wanted more.” That passion for success brought him back to UCR where he completed a master’s in fluid mechanics, opening new doors for the ambitious engineer.
“I was working in the STILO (Scientific & Technical Intelligence Liaison Office) in the last year of my master’s when Rear Adm. Macy’s call came out for anyone to help with IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices). I stayed up all night writing a paper I called ‘Seams Analysis’ which laid out a plan to predict the patterns of IEDs.” That paper got the attention of Dan Bergstrom, head of Corona’s Performance Assessment Department.
“This analysis was unlike any T&E (training and engagement) we had done,” says Bergstrom, “but once I observed the application with Marines, I knew Taylor had something powerful.”
Taylor’s passion for problem-solving led to a new role as tactical mathematician at the National Training Center in Fort Irwin, California, where he joined an eclectic team of mathematicians, engineers, physicists and programmers to combat IEDs during a time when they were most devastating to troops. This was the beginning of Taylor’s work with ORSA – Operations Research Systems Analysis. “We invented positions that exist today, like data linguist,” he says.
At the NTC, Taylor’s creativity shined. One night, he devised a plan to track a convoy using the cover of darkness. The next day, after troops returned from training, he analyzed their movement patterns. “That’s when they said, Taylor, we want to try something, and they sent me out to Fort Stewart. There, we came up with another method to help troops on the battlefield.”
With a process refined, he flew to Fort Polk, La., where things took a turn. “You know, we’re just doing the same thing we normally do, training these guys. In the first week, they found all of the IEDs and captured all the bad guys.”
Impressive to most, it didn’t sit well with one, says Taylor. “The planner for Fort Polk came out and chewed me out and said you just ruined training for 3,500 troops.” That raised the eyebrows of some top brass, including the current Secretary of Defense, who got wind of the issue during his visit. Sleep was lost that night, and the next morning, “they came in and talked to us, and I remember talking to Ashton Carter and he’s like, so what happened? So we explained it to him and everybody pointed to me and said we predict human behavior. And he said, ‘wow, we need to jump on this!” That conversation led to others, until the Army adopted the capability, including most Marine regiments, helping to neutralize the threat of IEDs in combat zones.
The success of this project led to many others for Cole, including a four-month deployment. “When I was sent to Bahrain as the project lead, I was tasked by Rear Adm. Fanta to model specific ship movements,” he explains. In addition, he completed analysis of Bahrain’s IEDs and carrier interactions in the Strait of Hormuz.
When Taylor returned, he received several honors, including an invitation to a think tank discussing naval strategies and the Global War on Terrorism medal, a rare achievement for civilians, he says. “The way I was allowed to think has changed the way I see the world. I judge less, explore more, fight saying no, and smile more.”
At the base of Cucamonga Peak, the rustling of packs and shuffling of feet break the silence of 3 a.m. as Taylor and his jumping buddies, Will Kitto and Matt Blank, begin their ascent up the mountain in darkness. For four hours, they climb in anticipation of a jump they say has never been attempted. At the summit, 8,800 feet in the air, they’re greeted by the warm glow of morning and unspeakable views. “It looked like we were in a different world. I knew my house was out there somewhere but everything looked far more majestic and beautiful than it ever has from my house. It was stunning – a view that you just can’t see from day-to-day living.”
Getting down would require careful engineering.
“We trained almost every weekend to get our launches down as we didn’t know what to expect. We took elevation maps and planned a path down the mountain that would be a shallower glide slope than what the Ozone XT16 (speed-flying rig) was capable of,” says Taylor. “I was watching the winds non-stop knowing that 8,800 feet was going to be gnarly big air. We considered turbulence, weather, heat, density, altitude, speed and other factors. Everything checked out.”
“It’s a game of practice,” says computer technician Will Kitto, friend and jumping partner, with a background in physics. “This idea that humans learn to fly involves a lot of thinking and statistics. Taylor has overcome a lot of challenges by thought and analysis of aerodynamics.”
At Corona, thought and analysis became a driving force for Cole. Following a five-year stint as the project lead for ORSA and think-tank contributions, Taylor returned to Corona as Science and Technology Lead in the Range Systems Engineering department.
“A person is not a widget,” says Taylor. “They don’t simply fill the old gap in an organization because of what’s on their resume. A person is everything that person does, everything they are passionate about, everything they dream about.”
In 2016, he returned to his alma mater as a mentor, challenging future engineers to change the world. At UCR, he helped students complete their senior research projects, assigning them projects the Navy actually needs, including a low-cost desalination device, stabilized ocean buoy and self-sufficient shelter.
“Taylor is a dynamic and extremely out-of-the-box thinker,” says Arman Hovakemian, Corona’s chief technology officer. “This office is fortunate to have him and his disruptive thinking helping us engage the universities and their students in our STEM outreach programs.”
The first student project tackled the global issues of water shortages and rising energy costs, by designing an affordable desalination process. “Saving energy and producing clean water is a tactical issue for the Navy,” says Dr. J. Paul Armistead, Office of Naval Research program officer, in an ONR news release.
Currently, desalination requires massive amounts of energy. Nuclear submarines produce fresh water using their engines to heat ocean water. Taylor’s students opted for a process called thermocline driven desalination, using the ocean’s natural thermal gradient to drive water production and minimize energy consumption. In their design, warmer water from the ocean’s surface is atomized into a low pressure chamber where the difference in saturation temperature causes flash evaporation of water vapor from the seawater. The vapor then moves into a second chamber where it is chilled by cooler water from the ocean depths, finally condensing into distilled water. The final test produced a trickle of fresh water.
The second group of students attempted to improve ocean buoy technology, for which the Navy has multiple uses, including tracking and targeting. They designed a dynamically stabilized ocean buoy, equipped with a cylindrical hull and small propeller, able to withstand waves as high as three feet and move to a prescribed location using a motorized propeller.
Taylor’s final two groups engineered an extreme weather shelter capable of operating in sub-arctic temperatures and desert heat. Powered by solar and wind turbines, with lead batteries to store energy and thermoelectric cooling plates to keep humidity stable, the shelters could power and maintain computer servers inside – at $102,000 a pop – in theory. “Think how much money could be saved with a shelter that can operate for a full year,” says Taylor.
Corona’s Bergstrom says the students’ ideas were imaginative and gave his staff ideas they hadn’t considered. “They had a unique approach to problem solving,” he added.
For Taylor, witnessing that passion for the Navy was a pleasure, “I absolutely love working for the military. I am hugely patriotic and the work we do can be so helpful. Doing math to save a life or kill a bad guy is a highlight.”
As Taylor reflects on life and career, thoughts of family are not far behind. “I’m always learning as a father. I love it. I want so badly for my daughter to have a drive for life and adventure that blows my views out of the water. She can do this with anything she decides to be.”
Taylor chose to be an engineering, skydiving, BASE-jumping, paragliding, reality TV, thrill-seeking entrepreneur, pilot father. “I used the math from my degree to predict bad guys in war, to scout BASE jumps, and to find seams or gaps in rules,” he says.
And with that, the word “breathtaking” leaves his lips, as he looks out over the horizon from the top of Cucamonga Peak. With the warm sun at his back, standing at the edge of what feels like the top of the world, Taylor looks down… takes a deep breath… and jumps.
No words can describe the next six minutes, as a steady gush of wind carries him away.
Serenity – and the occasional “this is epic” – paint the sky. Ripples of canvas gently shutter as the grace of the elements propel him across the earth.
Eight-thousand feet becomes six … Five becomes four … Three becomes two … Until his feet brush the dirt. Planted firmly on the ground – for a moment – landing within feet of his car, Taylor collects his rig, nods to his friends, and drives off to meet his family for breakfast.
If the sky truly is the limit, how high must Taylor fly to reach his?
“You can see so much more beauty in the world than what’s inside your cubicle,” he says.
Stay daring, Taylor Cole.
See Taylor Fly