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.