native of Roanoke, Virginia, James L. Brooks joined the Air
Force in 1942. After graduating as a Second Lieutenant, Brooks
was sent to Panama, where he flew P-39 and P-40 aircraft.
In early 1944, he joined the 31st Fighter Group in Italy
and the group then exchanged their Spitfires for P-51 Mustangs.
They provided long range escort for heavy bombers deep into
Europe and the Balkan Islands.
Brooks recorded his first victory over Ploesti, Romania
in April 1944.
While on a special mission from Russia to Lvov, Poland,
Brooks led the 307th Fighter Squadron on an engagement with
40 JU-87 Stuka dive bombers. Twenty-seven of the 40 enemy
aircraft were destroyed and the 31st received its second
Unit Citation. Brooks also received the Silver Star. He ended
his tour with 280 combat hours, 13 confirmed kills and three
damaged aircraft in the air, mostly ME-109s.
Accepting a regular commission after the war, Brooks became
jet qualified in 1946. While flying F-86s with
the 4th Fighter Group in the Korean War, Brooks participated
in the first all big-jet air battle 42,000 feet above the
Yalu River, involving 12 MIGs and four Sabrejets in December
Brooks resigned from the Air Force in 1951, joining North
American Aviation as an engineering test pilot. Over the
next six years, he logged test flights in all F-86 series
aircraft, the B-45 jet bomber, XF-100s and an F-86 rocket
Brooks was one of the founders and the first president of
the Fighter Aces Association and is a past president of the
Society of Experimental Test Pilots. His decorations include
the Silver Star, the Distinguished Flying Cross with one
Oak Leaf Cluster, the Air Medal with 20 Oak Leaf Clusters
and the Unit Citation with one Oak Leaf Cluster.