Team - Mission II, Team - Argentina Team 2019, Team - Argentina Team 2018, Team - Argentina Team 2017, Team - Argentina Team 2016

Jim Payne

Chairman of the Board | Chief Pilot


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." He graduated Outstanding Cadet in Soaring in 1974. He flew the F-4, F-5, F-16, F-16XL among other aircraft for the Air Force. Jim was the first pilot selected to pioneer the Air Force Institute of Technology master's with a follow-on assignment to AF Test Pilot School. He turned down a full ride to Stanford since it was not coupled with TPS. In 1983 Jim earned his Gold and Diamond Altitude legs in a SGS 1-26 in the Tehachapi wave. When he was assigned to the 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.

Jim taught Flight Test at the United States Air Force Academy. When he could not find a good text book to use, he wrote his own. He instilled a love of flying and leadership into the next generation of AF commanders. Jim coached the USAFA cross country soaring team through several camps and contests. Jim managed the US International Soaring team for 5 World Championships.  He was the Open Class Pilot in the South African World Championships in 2001.

After Jim retired from the AF he consulted for NASA and then managed Northrop's Global Hawk multi-million dollar program for 10 years. He moved to Northrop's Firebird program and flew first flight before retiring (again). He now works full time volunteering as Chief Pilot for Perlan Project where he developed and led the test program.


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.  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 17 World Soaring Records and over 95 National Records. Jim and his brother Tom were National Open Place Soaring champions. Jim won the Baron Hilton Cup and the Return to Kitty Hawk race across America in 2003. Jim was awarded the Soaring Society of America's highest honor, the Eaton Trophy, in 2003. One of his records has been chosen as a Most Memorable Record an unprecedented nine different years by the National Aeronautical Association.  He flew the challenging Perlan 2 from first flight in 2015 through the world record-setting high altitude flights in Argentina in 2018.  In the Air Force Jim was Top Gun of his Aggressor class and a Distinguished Graduate of his 1982 USAF Test Pilot School class. In 2018 Jim was selected Distinguished Alumnus of TPS. The Society of Experimental Test Pilots (SETP) selected Jim for the Test Pilot of the Year - Kincheloe Award. In 2019 the Guinness Book of Records selected Perlan's 2017 World Record for their aviation page. Jim received the "Inspiration and Patriotism Award" from Living Legends of Aviation for 2018. In 2020 Jim was upgraded to SETP Fellow. In 2021 Jim was elected Chairman of the Perlan Board of Directors.

Jim's fastest soaring flight was a 300 kilometer Out and Return speed of 305 kpm (189 mph) along the Sierra Nevada mountains. His furthest flight was 2,907 km (1,806 miles) from Minden, NV. His highest flight is in the Perlan 2 at 76,124 feet pressure altitude from El Calafate, Argentina. His longest flight was 15.6 hours in the Patagonia wave.