Payton has been interested in aviation since the age of two when he attended his first air show. When he was three years old, he saw his first lunar eclipse and has desired to be an astronaut since he was four. According to Payton, "Being a pilot is just one way to become an astronaut!"
To begin the journey of making his dream a reality, at age 12, Payton joined the Civil Air Patrol (CAP). His participation in CAP is facilitating his development as a leader where he is currently his squadron's Alpha Flight Commander and the Cadet Aerospace officer. He recently had the chance to serve in a military funeral for a World War II pilot, killed in action, whose remains were identified after 73 years of missing in action. Payton's leadership skills were also shown two years ago after Tropical Storm Joaquin when he responded to flooding in South Carolina. His actions during this disaster earned him a Disaster Ribbon with a "Valor" designation.
Payton is also very active in 4-H. He is one of 25 Georgia 4-H STEM Ambassadors. This summer he became a Master 4-Her when he won first place in the state level competition. He just returned from Elite Advanced Space Academy, an invitation only program, which invited 64 children worldwide to fill 42 spaces. Payton's Mom and Learning Coach, Rachael Mercer explains, "The flexibility with accountability that we have with GCA is so vital to Payton being able to do some of these activities and accomplish goals!!!"
After high school graduation, Payton would like to attend the US Air Force Academy or the Naval Academy. He states, "I want to be a pilot, so flying in the military would be great."
His advice for any student who is interested in aviation is to "work the hardest that you can and work a little harder. That is how I've been able to pay for camps and academies that have given me the opportunity to receive this scholarship. Do the research so you know what steps need to be taken to achieve your goals! Especially for receiving an appointment to a military academy." Payton also says, "There is a lot of 'pre-work' to do!". Congratulations, Payton! It looks like the "pre-work" is paying off.