July 9, 1910
Just a couple of days before his 21st birthday, Walter Brookins broke the world’s altitude record for fixed-wing aircraft when he attained a height of 6,175 feet (1,882 meters) while piloting a Wright biplane in the skies above Atlantic City, New Jersey. This early-evening flight also marked the first time that a plane had flown higher than a mile (1.6 kilometers). Brookins’ record-breaking achievement resulted in not only widespread press coverage but also a prize of $5,000 awarded by the Atlantic City Aero Club.
Brookins, who is pictured above in a 1910 photo, had been born in Dayton, Ohio. His fellow Dayton natives Orville and Wilbur Wright taught him how to fly at their aviation school in Montgomery, Alabama. (Katharine Wright, the only sister of those pioneering brothers, was one of Brookins’ schoolteachers.)
Brookins’ first-of-a-kind flight at Atlantic City was officially monitored by the Contest Committee of the National Council of Aero Clubs of America. As jointly confirmed by the committee’s chairman Henry M. Neely and recorder Augustus Post, Brookins was aloft in the Wright biplane for a total of one hour, two minutes, and 35 seconds.
The next day’s edition of the Tennessee-based Daily Journal and Tribune recounted the celebratory atmosphere in Atlantic City that evening as Brookins piloted his aircraft up in the skies and then proceeded to land it on the ground below. The Daily Journal and Tribune reported, “News that Brookins was attempting to break the altitude record reached the hotels and city people and it is calculated that nearly 100,000 watched the flight and cheered Brookins when he descended at 7:11 P.M.”
This newspaper also noted, “Men and women in the great throng threw up hats and handkerchiefs and the police had trouble keeping back the crowd until Brookins made his escape from the machine to his dressing room on the pier.”
Over the next several years, Brookins continued to make noteworthy contributions to aviation. Along with participating as a pilot at air shows and in flight competitions, he taught others how to fly planes. Brookins died in Los Angeles in 1953 at the age of 63. His ashes were interred at the Portal of the Folded Wings Shrine to Aviation at the entrance to Valhalla Memorial Park Cemetery in Los Angeles.
Photo Credit: Public Domain
For more information on Walter Brookins and his record-setting 9 July 1910 flight, please check out 9 July 1910 – This Day in Aviation and Moments and Milestones: Mile-High Man | History | Air & Space Magazine (airspacemag.com)