Origins – March 1992 to 1996

In March 1992, Baron von Helton created Jagdgeschwader I “Richthofen” (JG I), an Online Cyber-Squadron dedicated to playing Sierra’s original Red Baron flight simulator.

Named after the historical Flying Circus, JG I “Richthofen” is one of the oldest virtual squadrons currently active on the internet. Our contemporaries are the Arabian Knights (formed in 1990/1991) and the Wing Walkers (formed in early 1992).

JG I “Richthofen” was, of course, ahead of its time. When JG I was founded, the Internet was still in its infancy, and “online gaming” was an extremely new concept. After all, Sierra’s Red Baron did not come with multiplayer functionality. However, there was the ImagiNation Network (INN), and because of INN’s existence, Red Baron Online was born.

Owned by the Sierra Network (TSN), the INN was an innovative multiplayer online gaming system allowing people to play cards, board games, golf, trivia, Red Baron, and even be tutored on their homework. By today’s standards, it was archaic. For the day, however, it was cutting edge.

All Quiet on the Western Front – 1996 to 1997

In between 1994 and 1995, AT&T would purchase TSN, making changes and enhancements to the original layout of INN. Then, on 6 August 1996, America Online (AOL) acquired INN. While AOL would run the network for another two years, before eventually closing it down in early 1998, one of the first services they would close was Red Baron Online.

On 31 August 1996, Red Baron Online was shut down.  With no outlet with which to fly together, JG I stopped functioning. During this period, many JG I pilots continued to fly under their JG1_ squadron names, mostly in other sims such as WarBirds or Air Warrior’s WW1 Arena.  However, there was no real organization.  The drying up of the WW1 flight sim genre forced JG I to disband in all but name.

Rebirth and Growth – 1997 to 1999

In June 1997, with the announcement that Sierra On-Line was developing a sequel to the original Red Baron simulation, JG I pilots started reconvening on The Rook’s Unofficial Red Baron Page. Because of the incredible interest in seeing JG I take to the air once again, it was decided to officially re-organize the squadron, once again under the leadership of Baron von Helton.

At first, JG I flew missions offline. Using the original Red Baron Mission Builder, missions were exchanged between members via email. Then, JG I had the opportunity to get involved with the open beta for Simguild’s Flying Circus.

While Flying Circus, as a game, is often forgotten when recounting the history of online simulations, it does represent a very important milestone for JG I. Previously, as with INN, air battles were restricted to 2v2 affairs, never allowing the squadron to fully fly with itself. With Flying Circus, however, JG I was finally able to field up to 20 pilots at once, allowing the squadron to fly with a large section of its official roster. This, along with the game’s enhanced features, dramatically changed how JG I both flew and fought.

JG I would fly Simguild’s Flying Circus almost exclusively until Red Baron II was released on 30 October 1997. By 2 December 1997, the majority of JG I was once again flying on a Sierra-owned online gaming system, this time called the World Opponent Network (WON.net) area. However, WON.net was plagued by terrible problems, and many JG I pilots found themselves instead flying off of Kali (a multiplayer emulator).

On 24 January 1998, Baron von Helton officially retired from JG I.  JG I was now comprised of over 50 pilots, many of whom had very different ideas as to how JG I should adapt and evolve. The main conflict during this period was over whether JG I should be a “multi-sim” squadron, flying both Flying Circus and Red Baron II, or whether it should instead dedicate itself solely to one game or the other.

Citing Red Baron II’s poor flight models, as well as the continuing problems with WON.net, about half of the squadron wanted to see JG I exclusively dedicate itself towards Simguild’s Flying Circus. The schism that resulted reduced JG I to approximately 18 Red Baron II pilots, as many of the Flying Circus advocates left JG I to join or start new squadrons.

Despite the internecine conflict, JG I continued to grow. In June 1998, JG I was the first World War One cyber-squadron to create a dedicated ground attack wing. At first, called Bogohl 1, this group was re-designated Schlasta 2, and specialized in multi-functional bombing, reconnaissance, escort, and ground attack duties, much like the real Schlachtstaffeln did during the First World War. Schlasta 2 was eventually demobilized in November 2001.

JG I also had the honor of being involved in the beta testing of Red Baron 3D, which was eventually released on 27 October 1998. Red Baron 3D, a heavily patched version of Red Baron II, fixed the majority of problems found within the original game, and as a result, JG I’s numbers swelled.

In March 1999, JG I participated in its first “war tournament”.  JG I flew alongside the KA7 squadron, and against the Wing Walkers, the Lafayette Escadrille (LE), and the RAF 209. In April of that same year, JG I became involved in the “Great War” tournaments, hosted by the RAF and JG2.

It was also in April 1999, when the “Stabs Offiziere der Flieger von JG 1” (Stofl) was officially founded. The Stofl (then called the SODF), was designed to consist of the Jastaführers (Jasta commanders) and the Geschwaderkommandeur of JG I so that they could vote on matters ranging from promotions, medals, commendations, and various other intra-squadron matters.

Flanders In Flames – 1999 to 2001

On 9 October 1999, JG I’s Jastaführers began work on a homegrown online tournament called Flanders In Flames (FiF). Now legendary within the World War One online community, Flanders In Flames was first laid down under the leadership of Ernst von Leep and Paul Lowengrin.

This tournament was designed to be as realistic as the Red Baron 3D game would allow, recreating authentic First World War dogfights and aircraft match-ups. Key components were an emphasis on two-seater missions and the repercussions of lost resources on both supply and mission capabilities.

In December 1999, Flanders In Flames I was flown, with JG I and the Lone Wulff squadron fighting against the Wing Walkers and the Lafayette Escadrille. Flanders In Flames I was followed in quick succession by Flanders In Flames II through Flanders In Flames V, with Flanders In Flames V: Bloody April being flown in June 2001. Eventually, the Flanders In Flames event would bring new aircraft, new graphics, and new flight models into the Red Baron 3D community.

Transitions – 2001 to 2002

By the Fall of 2001, the Red Baron 3D community had started to shrink at an alarming rate.  This was primarily due to the release of Oleg Maddox’s IL-2 Sturmovik.  However, there were other related factors as well.  During this time, JG I continued to host and fly the Flanders In Flames event, as well as take part in the “One Life to Live” event hosted by SE Aetos.  However, overall participation within the squadron started to drop off.

Some within JG I felt that the squadron should branch out to fly other non-WW1 sims.  While others felt that JG I needed to stay true to its roots, and only fly Red Baron 3D.

Worried about having another schism, similar to what happened in 1998, the Stabs Offiziere der Flieger (Stofl) made the then-controversial decision to allow JG I pilots to belong to and form IL-2 units.  However, it was decided that the core of JG I would remain solely dedicated to the World War One-era, and therefore to Red Baron 3D.

Thus, with the blessing of JG I’s Rittmeister, Paul Lowengrin, and under the leadership of Leonard Strickland (better known within the IL-2 community as II./JG1_Hartmann), thirteen JG I pilots created an extension of JG I Richthofen within the IL-2 community.  Founded in December of 2001, they called themselves II.Gruppe Jagdgeschwader 1 “Oesau” (II./JG 1).

This new World War Two group would have a separate command structure, its own pilots, and its autonomy. However, it would remain a part of the greater JG I family.  This created the “one Jagdgeschwader, two squadrons” framework that JG I would operate under for the next five years.  Two groups, united by a common history, jointly working together to carry on the traditions first set down in March 1992.

Reunions – 2002 to 2009

By December 2003, JG I “Richthofen” was still in a period of change. With no clear successor to Red Baron 3D on the horizon, despite talks of a new World War One game called Knights over Europe, JG I “Richthofen” continued to shrink, losing members to both real life and normal online attrition.

By early 2005, the last JG I organized Flanders In Flames event for the Red Baron 3D community was held. Called Flanders In Flames X, it was a great success that would prove to be JG I’s swan song with regards to Red Baron 3D.

Soon after Flanders In Flames X, JG I “Richthofen” gave control of its day-to-day operations to its sister group, II./JG 1. With that, JG I “Richthofen” completely merged with II.Gruppe Jagdgeschwader 1, ending the “one Jagdgeschwader, two squadrons” framework which had served the group so well.

JG I “Richthofen” then went into a torpor, waiting for a new World War One simulation to be a true heir to the classic Sierra Red Baron games.

Rise of Flight – 2009

In early April 2009, Russian developers called Neoqb sent out a call to the World War One simming community for participants who would be willing to help beta-test the Rise of Flight game. According to their terms and conditions, Neoqb actively wanted to recruit approximately 100 people who were currently members of “stable virtual squads” that had established histories on the internet.

JG1 was honored to be selected as one of the participating squadrons, sending five beta-testers to the event: Lowengrin, Klaiber, RivRat, Degelow, and Krupinski. Not only did beta testing the new Rise of Flight game give JG1 a great opportunity to fly our old “wood and linen” crates again, but it gave the squadron a firsthand look at the next generation of World War One simulations.  JG I “Richthofen” was immediately reactivated.

On 25 June 2009, “Rise of Flight: The First Great Air War” was released in North America with two flyable aircraft: the Fokker D.VII and the SPAD 13.C1. Within a week, both the Albatros D.Va and the Nieuport 28 became available. These aircraft were soon followed by a plethora of others. And by 28 June 2010, it was announced by 777 Studios, the North American publisher of the game, that it had officially acquired all rights to Rise of Flight and the Neoqb brand. Thus, the continued development of Rise of Flight was secured.

Flanders Reignited – 2009 to 2016

In late 2009, an offshoot of a Czech / Slovak squadron named  I./JG 1 asked to join JG I as our Jasta 6. They had recently left I./JG 1, and were looking to focus on World War One aircraft.  Within their inclusion into our squadron, JG I stopped being just a North American group, and finally became an international organization.  This changed the way JG I looked at itself, as well as the greater flight simming community.

Then, in 2011, Fritz Butzzell and Rolf (Wyrger) Hett decided to revive the Flanders In Flames tournament for the Rise of Flight community.  New rules were written specifically for the Rise of Flight game, and Flanders In Flames XV was run in November of 2011.  This event was well-received.  But the set-up of the event proved time-consuming, and it was decided that a more streamlined tournament was needed.

With the help of the No.42 Squadron, several test missions were run over the next two years.  These test missions would ultimately lead to the “JG1 v No.42” event, run in April 2013.  While not an officially numbered FIF event, “JG1 v No.42” was a proof of concept.  The tournament rules were more straightforward, as were the mission creation and objective lists.  And with the help of Klaiber, the current Rittmeister of JG I, the organization of the event was finalized.  As a result, regularly held Flanders In Flames missions were able to start.  And by 2014, an additional 5 Flanders In Flames tournaments were held in rapid succession.

Finally, in the Summer of 2015, it was decided that Flanders In Flames needed to be an international event.  The reason for this was simple.  JG I was an international squadron, and our Jasta 6 was composed entirely of European pilots.  Their inability to fly during North American times meant that they were not allowed to get full access to JG I-sponsored events.

As a result, starting with Flanders In Flames XXIb, held in July 2015, the tournament opened itself up to European participants.  This proved to be extremely popular within the Rise of Flight community, and soon the European-friendly mission times had more pilots than the North American-friendly times.

After the end of Flanders In Flames XXII, which was held in the Fall of 2015, a Rise of Flight group named Flying Misfits (FM) merged with JG I.  This allowed our squadron to fill out all of our Jastas.  And with the start of Flanders In Flames XXIII, in January 2016, JG I was now composed of 42 active pilots. On 30 January 2016, JG I was even able to field 19 squadron members within the same tournament mission.  This gave our squadron an incredible sense of camaraderie.

Postscript – 2014

In October 2014, the third aspect of our squadron was created.  Called JG-1 “Fritz Schmenkel”, and based on the historical East German squadron which flew the MiG-15 and the MiG-21, this subgroup was designed to be an avenue for JG I pilots to fly the Cold War and Modern aircraft of Digital Combat Simulator World (DCS World).  With its inclusion, JG I now is involved in all aspects of the last 113 years of aviation.

The JG I Bier Stein – 2016

Over the next year, the Flanders In Flames tournament continued to grow within Rise of Flight, as did JG I itself. During this period, JG I became even more of an international group, pulling in new pilots from all over Europe. JG I also took time to participate in Jasta 5’s ongoing Bloody April / Black September campaigns.

Starting in January of 2016, JG I began focusing a large part of its weekly practices on teaching and learning basic fighter maneuvers (BFM) and air combat maneuvering (ACM). Formal classes were held on angles fighting, energy fighting, gunnery, two-versus-one engagements, and fighting from the merge. These sessions ultimately culminated in the “Bier Stein competition,” a fun single-elimination element-versus-element contest where JG I pilots could fly against each other and show what they learned throughout all of the lessons and training. On 30 March 2016, after a grueling 5-team single-elimination event, Element 1, composed of Hotlead and Maushake, emerged as the JG I Bier Stein champions.

In Flanders Fields – 2016 to 2017

Immediately after Flanders In Flames XXV (October 2016), FIF was re-stylized into yearly seasons, where there would be three distinct campaigns: the Winter Campaign from January to March, the Spring Campaign from May to July, and the Fall Campaign from October to December.

Thus, what would have been Flanders In Flames XXVI (January 2017) was renamed Flanders In Flames 2017 “Winter Campaign.” This pattern has continued to the present.

Richthofen’s Flying Circus – 2017 to 2020

On 17 November 2017, 1CGS (the partnership between 777 Studios and 1C Company) announced Flying Circus – Volume I. Flying Circus, created with a company called UGRA-Media, was a new, re-imagined version of Rise of Flight brought into the IL-2 Sturmovik: Great Battles series. As a separate stand-alone product from Rise of Flight, Flying Circus planned to give virtual pilots access to a map focused around the Arras sector, as well as 10 aircraft found during the 1918 air battles of the First World War. It was also announced that more volumes of Flying Circus were planned for future releases. These announcements were a great boon to JG I, as it meant that FIF would continue to grow and adapt within a vibrant online WW1 flight sim community.

On 7 November 2019, Flying Circus was officially released, giving virtual pilots their first taste of WW1 air combat in virtual reality (VR). Then, on 3 December 2019, Flying Circus was released on Steam.

Starting with the FIF 2020 Winter Campaign, JG I officially moved the tournament to Flying Circus. This shift in games required significantly revising the tournament’s rules, as well as creating new event maps and adjusting how the tournament’s objectives worked. The process was difficult for the tournament coordinates, Butzzell and Klaiber, but positive. And despite the limited plane-set, as well as some technical snafus, things went extremely well.

Coinciding with the start of the first FIF event for Flying Circus, JG I started working on a Paint Pack Revision Project (PPRP), headed by Heinrich, Vonrd, and Klaiber. The purpose of the PPRP was to standardize the divergent skins that were being submitted for inclusion into the Geschwader’s growing paint pack. Under the guidance of the PPRP, new skins were created, new markings based on roster assignment were added, all skins were standardized at 2K, and an overall color correction was made, ensuring that all liveries would look uniform even if created by different artists. This project took approximately 8 months to complete, and on 10 August 2020, a new paint pack was officially posted for the Geschwader.

During this time, JG I restarted formal training sessions on BFM and ACMs. This was an experience that many of our newer recruits had not gone through, and something that our more experienced pilots had not done since 2016’s Bier Stein training. This new training protocol was called the Fighter Tactics Training Program (FTTP). It included tactical discussions, track reviews, as well as flight sessions. FTTP was effective in helping the Geschwader better incorporate combat theory and tactics into weekly practices.

The Long Hard War – 2020

On 8 April 2020, 1CGS released a new aircraft damage model and munitions damage calculations for all of IL-2 Sturmovik: Great Battles. This was a massive update that affected both WW2 aircraft as well as the Flying Circus module. A key feature was an attempt at a more advanced version of damage, where aircraft size, material type, as well as munition-type was factored in. Additionally, 1CGS completely reworked the aircraft skin damage calculations in an attempt to make visual hit effects better coincide with actual physical damage.

While the release of this new damage model was generally viewed as a great step forward for WW2 virtual pilots, within the WW1 community severe problems were immediately reported. Not only was wing-shedding far more common, but identifying a damaged wing that could shed became much harder, as the visual damage on the biplanes didn’t seem to match up with the true structural damage received. Thus, a virtual pilot would enter a high-G turn, thinking there was no danger, only to find their wings gone.

This was compounded with all-too-common elevator and rudder control jams that were attempting to simulate the snapping of a control cable. However, rather than allowing the elevator or rudder to go limp, as would happen in real life, the control surface would lock completely, causing the aircraft to tumble out of control with no way to recover. While everyone within JG I acknowledged that control failures did happen in WW1 air combat, this new damage model seemed to fly in the face of the historical “meat and metal” method of bringing down a WW1 aircraft, recounted in the autobiographies of Manfred von Richthofen, Cecil Lewis, Eddie Rickenbacker, René Fonck, and others.

Because of these damage model changes, the FIF 2020 Spring Campaign was significantly delayed, as there was hope for a patch to the game to address the problems. With no word from 1CGS, and thus no patch in sight, the FIF 2020 Spring Campaign was started in earnest on 6 June 2020 but with a drastically reduced schedule of only 4 weeks.

For the FIF 2020 Fall Campaign, it was decided by Butzzell and Klaiber that FIF should revert to the Rise of Flight game. Not only did the Rise of Flight game give the tournament more maps and aircraft to choose from, but it removed the unpopular damage model from being a factor in people’s overall fun and enjoyment. One great negative to this decision was that Rise of Flight had no VR support. So, virtual pilots who relied on that method of head-tracking were at a disadvantage. Additionally, moving to Rise of Flight was a clear step backward, and it put both JG I and the FIF tournament in the untenable situation of having to straddle two games and communities simultaneously.

The Turning Tide – 2021

On 14 December 2020, 1CGS announced Flying Circus – Volume II. Created again with UGRA-Media, who had now done excellent work for Eagle Dynamics in DCS World, Volume II promised to add 10 more aircraft to Flying Circus from the 1917 and 1918 time period, as well as greatly expand the game’s map.

It was also announced that collector aircraft would also be released for Flying Circus over the next few years. This news was very well received. However, because of the ongoing damage model issues, as well as a lack of a timeline for its fix, many had significant reservations about whether Flying Circus would ever be given the quality-of-life attention it needed.

Over the next few months, aircraft for Volume II started to be released, as 1CGS / UGRA continued to develop the new expansion. However, it was again decided by both Butzzell and Klaiber that the FIF event could only return to Flying Circus if there was a promise by the developer to address the ongoing damage model issues.

As a result, the FIF 2021 Winter Campaign was flown in Rise of Flight, making use of the Tarnopol Map and Eastern Front aircraft. The Tarnopol campaign ran for 8-weeks and was very successful, with high numbers on both teams. The Adler Legion, a Russian-based squadron, was especially strong during this campaign and gave JG1 and its allies a significant battle.

During the Spring of 2021, no FIF campaign was run. This was to make room for a newly developed WW2 tournament created by Butzzell and Schulte (Moxy). Called Tanks In Flames (TIF), this event ran for 8-weeks and was the first addition to what JG I dubbed the “In Flames” series of events.

It was also during this period that 1CGS began to recognize the community’s claims that something was off about Flying Circus’ damage model. A number of discussions were had between members of the WW1 community and Jason Williams, the executive producer of IL-2 Sturmovik. Finally, on 11 September 2021, 1CGS announced that the control surface jamming was indeed happening far too often and that proper behavior was not occurring. According to Jason Williams, the cause was a failure to update the WW1 aircraft to the new “limp” control surfaces first introduced in April of 2020. As a result, 1CGS promised that their engineering team would correct the issue as soon as possible. While 1CGS was not able to explain why wing failures were so common, they did say that they were very aware of this and that they were researching the underlying causes.

Reactions from JG I were extremely positive!

Once More Unto the Breach – 2021 to present

Throughout the Summer and early Fall of 2021, there were organizational changes within JG I. On 1 July 2021, Jasta 4 became an English-speaking European Jagdstaffel, having been a joint North American / European squadron for approximately five years.

Additionally, JG I adopted a new training initiative, partly inspired by 2020’s Fighter Tactics Training Program (FTTP). Called the “Greenie Board,” it was designed to help JG I aid recruits and better organize its practices. This was going to be essential as the group turned a clear eye to recruiting new pilots to fill in the rosters.