Jim Payne started soaring at the Air Force Academy in 1971. At the Academy he made his first wave flight and was immediately hooked. His paper for his senior technical writing course was A Report on High Altitude Sailplane Flight. In 1983 Jim earned his Gold and Diamond Altitude legs in a SGS 1-26 in the Tehachapi wave. When he was assigned to staff at the US Air Force Test Pilot School he was part of the Soar Eagle Project. The team equipped a Grob 103 with a pressure suit system. Soaring in this sailplane Jim earned a Triple Lennie Pin for a flight to 42,200 feet. With the advent of GPS flight recorders, Jim pioneered wave speed records.
For many years he held the fastest world record at 247 km/hr (154 mph), a record that was listed in the 2006 Guinness. In recent years Jim has used the wave to win numerous OLC Championships: World Champion in the OLC Classic 6 times and World Champion in OLC Speed 8 times. His furthest flight is 2,907 km (1,806 miles). Jim was awarded the 2001 Lilienthal Medal winner (highest award given by the FAI for gliding) and is a member of the Soaring Hall of Fame. He has set 13 World Soaring Records and over 50 National Records. Jim and his brother Tom were National Open Place Soaring champions. Jim's fastest soaring flight was a 300 kilometer Out and Return speed of 305 kpm (189 mph). This was the sixth time one of his records was chosen as Most Memorable by the NAA. In the Air Force Jim was Top Gun of his Aggressor class and a Distinguished Graduate of his USAF Test Pilot School class.