A 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 1950.

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 augmentation project.

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.