Origins – March 1992 to 1996
In March 1992, Baron von Helton created Jagdgeschwader I “Richthofen”, an Online Cyber-Squadron dedicated to playing Sierra’s original Red Baron flight simulator.
Named after the historical Flying Circus, JG I “Richthofen” holds the distinction of being the first “German” Online Cyber-Squadron and the third oldest Online Cyber-Squadron on the Internet. Only the Arabian Knights (formed in January 1992) and the Wing Walkers (formed in February 1992) are more senior.
JG I “Richthofen” was of course ahead of its time. When JG I was founded, the Internet was still in its infancy and the idea of “online gaming” was an extremely new concept. Sierra’s Red Baron, after all, 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 on-line gaming system that would allow people to play cards, board games, golf, trivia, Red Baron, and even be tutored on your 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 it. 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 games 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 adapted and evolve. The main conflict during this period was over whether JG I should be a “muli-sim” squadron, flying both Flying Circus and Red Baron II, or whether it should instead dedicated 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 in order 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 their own 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 its own command structure, its own pilots, and its own autonomy. However, it would still 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 present
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, a number of 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 simple and straightforward, as was 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 completely 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 has given our squadron an incredible sense of camaraderie.
In October 2014, a 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.