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We present an efficient real-time JPEG 2000 image transmission system over heterogeneous wireless networks. By exploiting the advantages of the UDP-lite protocol and cross-layer optimization, the system can utilize the limited bandwidth more efficiently. Moreover, a scalable cross-layer rate allocation (SCRA) algorithm is proposed to perform the cross-layer optimization. The algorithm can manage a large number of adjustable parameters with low complexity. The simulation results show that by using the proposed method, 1.5 dB gain in PSNR can be obtained for a fixed transmission rate of 0.5 bpp, or 30% transmission time can be saved under an end-to-end distortion constraint of 30 dB in PSNR.