Community Q&A with the Air Combat Group

My next Community Q&A is with Woop, Kai Lae, Gromic, Thaine, Donkey and the rest of the Air Combat Group. ACG is well known for their expansive campaigns from their IL-2: Cliffs of Dover days. With the group now moving over to the IL-2: Great Battles Series to continue their historically researched scenarios, I thought it was a great time to talk with the group and find out about what they do and the kind of detail that they operate with.

I sent my questions in to the group and the members of ACG (and especially ACG_Woop) responded with great information, in-depth details of their sorties, and unparalleled dedication and enthusiasm for the Q&A. They also had quite a bit of patience as its taken me ages to put this piece together.

If you’re looking for a more serious flight sim group to get involved with you should definitely check out the Air Combat Group. Now on to the Q&A!

Let’s start on a personal note. How long have you been into flight sims and what was your first sim? What do you fly these days?

Woop: I’m Stefanos, I go by Woop, and I’m one of ACG’s relative youngsters, at 23. I’m half Greek and half British and I grew up in Thessaloniki, Greece. What first probably got me interested in planes was the fact we lived directly under the final approach to the city’s international airport. I would sit on the balcony trying to recognize the plane type and airline.

I’ve been in contact with flight sims since I can remember really. I remember watching my father playing Red Baron 3D, and I late started playing flight sims with Red Baron 2 and later IL-2 Forgotten Battles. Growing up in Greece, internet was very expensive, but mainly slow and patchy, so I didn’t get to fly online until I was much older. When I was younger, I also used to ‘monitor’ my father’s autopilot-flight in MS Flight Simulator 2004 while he was at the shops or whatever.

I started flying online and was immediately hooked. I stole his joystick and pedals and played online a lot in 1946. I then got Cliffs of Dover when the first Team Fusion patches were released.

Kai Lae: In my case, I’m Don and go by the handle Kai Lae. I’m 45 and live in the US midwest. When I was a youngster I lived in Tucson AZ, right next to Davis Monthan AFB, which at the time was the primary place where all A-10 pilots were trained. This is what I think first piqued my interest (and having the Pima Air museum close didn’t hurt either). For me flights sims go back to literally as soon as I got a PC, specifically F-15 strike eagle on the Commodore 64. I played a lot of the classic titles – F-19, falcon 3.0 and 4.0, pacific fighters – until when I was in my early 20’s I fell out of it until my late 30’s, when I picked it up again. Today I’ll fly just about anything with a prop; jet BVR combat I find not as interesting.

How long have you been a part of the Air Combat Group (ACG)?

Woop: I joined ACG in November 2015 after watching ACG’s short film titled “The Beginning of the End”, like many others at the time. This is a great watch, created by Bonkin, one of our most esteemed members, I would recommend it to everyone. I very quickly signed up on the forum and introduced myself. At that time I only had a crappy twisty stick, no head-tracking etc. so I was pretty useless, moving the pilot’s head with the mouse while flying with the wrong hand. I received an enormous amount of help from people on Teamspeak, most notably Mauf, who helped me learn navigation and formation flying. At the time ACG was flying the Leaning Forward campaign, in Cliffs, which takes place after the Battle of Britain, where the RAF started going on the offensive against German airfields on the French coast. This was a lot of fun, I joined No. 615 (County of Surrey) Squadron which flew Hurricanes at first, a plane which still holds a special place in my heart, but then switched to Spitfires towards the end of Leaning Forward. The next Campaign after that took us back to the Battle of France campaign, flying the Rotol Hurricane in early 1940. I’m still flying with the gents of 615, now as Esk. 3 of 34 IAP, first in MiG-3s during our Operation Taifun Campaign and now in LaGG-3s during our Winter 1941-42 Campaign titled “Stavka Strikes Back”.

Kai Lae: I joined at the beginning of 2016. I saw the “Flying with ACG” video on youtube and instantly said “I want to do THAT”. I put up a want to join post on our forums and was also posted to 615 squadron. This would have been the Battle of France campaign that Woop talked about. Now I fly the LaGG-3 with Woop during our campaign missions each Sunday.

Can you tell us a little bit of history behind the ACG. How long has the group been around? How many people are currently a part of ACG?

Gromic: I’m Michael but people in ACG know me as Gromic. Although a German by birth, I grew up in the US and wandered the world in my earlier years. My father was in the US Army and we were frequently stationed in different countries. I practically grew up in planes since dad also owned a few aircraft of his own during that time, and so my dream was to become a pilot myself at some point. As fate would have it, I contracted an eye condition, prior to an attempted PPL, that wouldn’t allow a class three aviation health certificate. Literally, my dreams went up in thin air and I had to find an alternative. I’ve been flying sims ever since.

Recap:

It’s now mid 2009 and I find myself on one of the numerous IL2 forgotten battles servers that could be found 24/7 on hyperlobby. I’m spawned on some allied airfield in a spitfire when I notice 3 aircraft take off in formation ahead of me. I decide to join as there’s strength in numbers. The group leader noticed my latching on and invited me to join them on comms. 5 minutes later I heard Osprey’s voice for the first time in my life. It’s a day that, however melodramatic it may sound, changed my life.

We flew as Legio XIII (named after the 13th Roman legion, created by Julius Ceasar in 57 BC) using HSFX or the famous Ultrapack on IL2: forgotten battles ’46. Many joined with us and so our virtual squadron grew considerably during the next two years.

By the time 2011 came around, and IL2: Cliffs of Dover with it, we decided to create a complete new organization named Air Combat Group (or ACG as you all know it), switch to IL2: Cliffs of Dover as a platform and divide our numbers amongst separate squadrons within that organization.

501 hurricane squadron was the first and was lead by Osprey himself. Osprey, I and a few others banded together, created missions for our first BoB campaign and organized whatever had to be done to get things rolling, including setting up ACG’s first public server and teamspeak services. I was also handed our first spitfire squadron and have held those 64 squadron reins ever since then.

ACG started from scratch. We had to obtain our domain and create a new server, using campaign tools similar to those in IL2: forgotten battles, but very scripting dependant to get the most mileage and create a historical foundation for our members to fly on. ACG went live on 11/08/2012. Our numbers exploded and numerous other squadrons were created including our Luftwaffe units flying the fabled JG26 staffeln of “the Abbeville Boys”. A time machine kicked in every Sunday night and sent well over 120 members back to the dover coast of 1940.

We’ve gone forward and have moved on to another platform. The IL2: Great Battles series is where we call home now. We’ve grown bigger than anything that I could have dreamt about in 2011 and continue to grow. ACG hosts its own research teams, campaign mission creation teams, its own group of amazing programmers, skinners, administration, etc. ACG will continue to strive, with relentless effort , for historical accuracy, be it now in Moscow or any future theater to come. You can truly be sure of that.

Currently I administrate our TeamSpeak server, skins repository and continue to lead 64 squadron. Many have come, a few have gone but raise a glass and burn the pianos, I remember you all.

Last words and special thanks:

Many do not realize it but I deem that it deserves mention since the key ingredient to ACG’s success was turned before most of our current members joined. A smart chap by the alias of Martin is who most of ACG owe so much to. Martin had created IL2X which was an amazing copy of the RAF radar used during the Battle of Britain. AFAIK, this was a first anywhere on virtual servers and allowed our RAF squadrons to intercept the onslaught of countless bomber waves sent by Goering and his henchmen. IL2X was the backbone of what gave ACG the edge on playable, historical authenticity. Thank you Martin! IL2X was later optimized by another ACG legend named Pitti, who was also the commander of ACG’s Luftwaffe section. Arguably, IL2X was the cornerstone attributing to ACGs popularity, appealing to those interested in flying a historical setting and not yet another dogfight server. It was also shared with 401 virtual squadron lead by Wolverine. Woop: ACG has been around for quite a while. The ACG as we know it today, was founded in 2011 by Dickie (then known as Osprey) and Gromic with the release of IL-2 Sturmovik: Cliffs of Dover and the virtual squadron they were a part of at the time. This squadron was No. 501 Squadron which laid the groundwork for what ACG was to become.

Way before that, the idea behind what ACG is today can be said to have been the brainchild of Prince in the online community of the original IL-2 Sturmovik. He had created an event to replace Ghost Skies, which started around 2004, as a large scale online IL-2 event which brought in a hoard of clever features like an intricate scoring system, dynamic targets and objectives. This brought in a great number of virtual squadrons from around the community. You could fly either side, with a mix of aircraft, much like Tactical Air War today, or so I gather. This ran for a few years but then died out. So Prince created the United Squadrons League which brought together any virtual squadrons willing to participate in its large scale online competitive events. Squadrons on each side were pitted against each other to achieve objectives and to ultimately come through victorious. Sadly Prince died of lung cancer in 2005.

At around 2008, Dickie was at first a member of a virtual squadron who flew open-pit (with external views on), so after a few years he left and was about to join a group called the Joint Forces Command. Here is where he met a number of founding ACG members like Nitrous, Toxic and others. JFC had a Campaign and Allied and Axis factions, much like ACG does. JFC was however very competitive and rivalries were prone to appear, due to its competitive nature. JFC also brought in squadrons as self-contained entities, which meant they had nothing in common between them, which in turn made rivalries stronger. This setup was therefore prone to fracture, and it did so.

Dickie joined the people who left JFC, what was called Legion XIII. These guys however, were not just tired of JFC, but had grown tired of virtual flying in general, so that group stopped abruptly. The people that were left formed a single RAF squadron (No.501) and flew mostly coop missions against AI for a time, but kept the idea of a large multi-squadron online campaign in mind, but had a vision to make it less competitive and friendlier. This is what was set about with the release of IL-2 Sturmovik: Cliffs of Dover in 2011. At first ACG consisted of just No. 501 Squadron, but some time later, members started signing up to fly for the Luftwaffe as well. The idea behind it was at first modest, the thought being to have one RAF squadron against one Luftwaffe squadron flying missions with AI forming the backdrop. In 2012 ACG moved to its current web location and created its forums. Very quickly the ACG experience attracted yet more virtual pilots and before long, an influx of new members necessitated the creation of further RAF and LW squadrons. ACG came into its own and really started to grow, soon adding Luftwaffe squadrons and further RAF squadrons.

Today, ACG consists of 15 Axis and Allied squadrons and fields in its Campaigns over 150 pilots. ACG is no longer tied to IL-2 Cliffs of Dover and has recently completed a move to the IL-2 Sturmovik: Great Battles Series. This has been crowned as a resounding success, and has proved that the ACG experience can be replicated on any combat flight simulation on the market. The future for ACG looks promising, as the flight sim community is awaiting the release of Battle of Bodenplatte for the Great Battles Series, as well as the long awaited Team Fusion 5.0 patch for IL-2 Cliffs of Dover Blitz Edition. These are already in ACG’s sights and would make prime candidates for future ACG Campaigns.

ACG is a mix of the traditional gaming “clan” with a dose of historical re-enactment thrown in. Can you tell us a little bit about how ACG is organized?

Woop: While that is correct, ACG is basically a gaming clan, it goes beyond that in many ways. Things that make us a “clan” are things like the following:

  1. We require of our potential members to not be members of any other clans that are active in the IL-2 Community. We don’t poach members from other groups and we would like our members to be committed to our group, without outside pressure.
  2. b) We require of our members to be able to commit to flying our weekly Campaign Missions. That means regular attendance. That being said, we understand that real life always comes first and we therefore like our members to be able to attend most missions. For missions were a member is going to be absent, he must always let his squadron commander know in advance.

That’s about it on that. The thing that makes ACG unlike any other gaming “clan” I’ve seen are how the group comes together like a community every week to fly with their mates in an organized and authentic environment, while the attention to detail and the work that goes into the weekly ACG experience is really something unique.

All this was achieved thanks to the dedication of ACG’s members to the Group. ACG members set aside rivalries and engage in friendly inter-squadron banter where their love for flying, aircraft and their invariable desire to have fun prevail. What the ACG structure provides is a uniform outlook on the virtual pilot mentality, providing the framework for a fun, immersive and authentic virtual flying experience, as the same ACG rules and standards are applied to all members. This makes members ‘loyal’ not so much to their respective squadrons, for which they are however immensely proud, but to the Group as a whole.

Kai Lae: Our organization is that we currently field 8 Soviet Air Forces squadrons and 7 Luftwaffe Staffeln. So, we have in total 15 squadrons in ACG. These at full strength will have 12-16 pilots generally each. Of these, 2 Luftwaffe staffels are German speaking, that is they speak German during their missions and therefore all members of these units must speak German. The rest speak English. We have other members that create the ground control interface that we use, set up and keep the mission database current, and provide skins for all the units. We also have a 5 person board that is in charge of it all and sets priorities for us as a whole.

Thaine: I’m Rafael but go by Thaine in the online world. I’m currently Head of the Administration Office and creator of ACG’s Pilot and Mission Database (PAM). I’ve been what you could call the general Adjutant for the longest time trying to get the administration organized and in order.

A lot of effort goes into running ACG and it demands a lot of work. That’s why ACG is really a team project. Of course we have the operational units described above by Kai Lae that fly the missions and reenact the military structure, you could call this the operational branch. But beside of this we have an organizational branch that creates and administers the whole operation. There’s certain subgroups that are responsible for different aspects; we call them Offices.

The Administration Office takes care of all the member affairs, the PAM, After Action Reports and Victory Claim submissions and the likes.

The Operations Office is responsible for running the campaigns, they do the research on the historical aspects and build the missions. Then we have the PR office that is dealing with outreach on social media and holding contact to the wider community. All this is done by volunteers and all ACG members are welcome and encouraged to contribute aside from flying, however this is not a requirement for membership.

Donkey: I’m Dave, I go by Donkey and I am Head of the ACG Technical Branch. I develop software for the ACG Campaign. There’s quite a few things I’ve made for ACG so here I will list a few. For Cliffs, I made a Ground Control (GCV) program that members manning the Ground Control use to monitor what’s happening using historical radar data. You can find the latest version of the GCV here. Now for BoX, I made a program called TacGRAB. TacGRAB is basically a tool that a) downloads ACG’s skins from an online repository and installs them into the correct folders, b) allows for the automatic download and unpacking of IL2_BoX mission files pre-connection to the server and c) records in-game and TacView without interruptions and size limitations. For more information on TacGRAB, look at the appropriate section in the Field Book. Another program I made for BoX, is a web tool for Mission Control to monitor the progress of the mission per faction. I also run the ACG server and manage all of the above.

ACG has been flying with Cliffs of Dover for years but the group is now getting involved with the IL-2: Great Battles Series. Can you tell us about a few of the highlights from the Cliffs of Dover related campaigns that the group has participated in and tell us what you’ve got coming up for IL-2: Great Battles?

Woop: One of the highlights for me was one of the last Campaign Missions we did using IL-2 Cliffs of Dover, re-enacting Sept 15 1940. The mission was called Battle of Britain Day Pt 1 and my persistent character F/Sgt Clifford ‘Woop’ Shaw was flying his 20th mission in Hurricane V6617 with KW-G markings. We were scrambled at 1030 hrs from Kenley and ordered to climb to angels 25, which ended up being angels 30 where we linked up with a Spitfire squadron. We were promptly vectored to intercept a large force of enemy bombers coming in through Hornchurch. These turned out to be 50+ Do-17s with fighter escort. The squadron turned to intercept and dove from a few thousand feet above the bombers. I was assigned to fly with the Squadron Lead, Kev, as Red 2. I followed Kev down and saw him hit a Do-17 which veered to the left and collided with another Do-17 right in front of me. I barely missed the debris and found myself behind the lead Do-17 whose right wing I filled with lead. I broke upwards in the blur of it all but saw that his starboard engine was leaking oil.

I then was damaged by a 109 coming down from altitude, and lost a lot of my altitude. Down there I hunted a 109 I had damaged earlier, found him making sneakily away on the deck and burned him to crisp. Noticed I had a fuel leak as the fuel started dropping rapidly, I made back to Kenley and landed safely.

You can read my flight report here.

Kai Lae: For me, what stands out was the siege of Calais during the Battle of France campaign. Trying to fend off waves of Stukas while dodging the Luftwaffe; we ended up coming out of a cloud and running right into a staffel of 109’s. Hectic stuff. Or another time being bounced by 109’s and ending up in a spin, only to come out of it right on the tail of a formation of Do-17’s. For Great Battles, we generally plan on progressing through the areas of combat in historical order. If/when Team Fusion release 5.0 with the North African theater, we will probably do that as well.

What goes into planning an ACG campaign? Are your missions closely historically connected or do you sometimes build semi-fictional scenarios as well?

Kai Lae: I’ll answer this as I’m also part of our mission staff, who design and create the missions. All missions are historically based. We have a research staff that reads relevant books (for instance, Glantz and particularly David Stahel). We also have a member with access to the national German archives for Luftwaffe related questions. They then note what units were active, general areas of activity, missions performed, front line locations and all other relevant data. We as mission designers are then given a briefing package that contains all that data in an easy to read format and contains a mission flow graph. We also make use of weather data – one of our members is a professional forecaster with access to historical data – to then create the mission. Due to program limitations it is not always possible to represent everything as closely as we would like, but we do try to at least capture the overall historical feel of what the actual pilots would have encountered during this time.

LuftAsher: I am Head of Operations for the ACG BoX Campaign. That means I oversee, plan and manage the creation of all ACG’s Campaign Missions. I plan who is going to make what mission, make sure all the necessary information is gathered by the Research Team and that we are good for time, meaning the mission will be finished on time. We have a mission creation rota, which sees all of us making one mission in rotation.

The planning of a campaign gets really involved and in-depth almost immediately as there is a vast range of considerations to make. Naturally we start with the history and get a sense of the who, what, where, why and how of air combat in that particular theatre. For this we have a research team that dives deep into books and similar materials including the German national archives. The amount of information we can gather about particular periods and operations can vary greatly, especially on the Eastern Front. This has proved to be one of the biggest challenges (of which there are many) in planning and organising these campaigns. We were spoiled by the Battle of Britain which is possibly the most well-documented aerial campaign in the history of warfare, while information about the specific day-to-day aerial operations on the Eastern Front is much harder to come by, though there is some good stuff if you dig, which we do.

Deciding which scenarios to follow is the next step. We look at the information we’ve been able dig up and focus on those that could believably facilitate a 12-24 mission campaign for 100+ people using the resources available to us in whatever simulator we’re using (aircraft,maps, gameplay mechanics, etc.).

Once we have a suitable scenario, we break it down into a timeline of key events and determine what dates to build missions for, what events that mission will recreate, and where those will happen. This sometimes requires a bit of supposition on our part, considering what we know about the action on the ground and then trying to logically determine what aerial operations would be happening around it.

We also take into account the various little intricacies and nuances of the operational situation of a given period which we try to factor into our mission design, for example recreating the German logistical crisis in the precarious Kalinin salient in October of 1941 which resulted in less available fuel for squadrons based in the salient to use. Squadrons operating from within the salient were also subjected to attacks on their airfields by enemy aircraft, and even tanks and artillery, sometimes flying three sorties in a single mission to try and keep the dangerous situation under control.

Finally all this information is distilled down into what we call a Research Package, a single document containing all the information our Mission Building team needs to put together the mission for a certain date, including the layout of the front line, the bases each unit will operate from, locations for objectives/targets, etc. And from that, our missions are created using the editor.

One of these research packages can be found here.

Does the group participate in any community squadron events?

Kai Lae: Not really as a group as a whole. Our size and scope make such things difficult as it’s hard to arrange for 150+ people from around the world to meet in one place at a time, so we limit such calls to our campaign events. However, if you look at any such event – TAW, KoTA events, etc – you’re likely to find at least some of us there participating.

Are you looking for new pilots to join in on your campaigns? How can they do that?

Kai Lae: We are always looking for new pilots who are looking for an organized, team friendly, immersive, and historically based experience. We are especially interested in pilots who like to fly bombers as this is a new area we have expanded into and have a need for new pilots.

Woop: I would urge people interested in joining ACG, to register on the forums and introduce themselves in the Reception area. If it’s a Sunday one can just join our Teamspeak at around 1900BST/GMT and contact one of the Administrators/Adjutants. These guys will help people with anything they need and will assign them to a squadron to fly with for that mission.

In any case, we do however recommend people willing to join to post in the Reception area and tell us a little about themselves, that way people know they are interested and Staff and members will look out for them.

One will only be signed up as an ACG member once they have flown at least once in the ACG Campaign as a non-member, and have made their intention to join clear to Staff and the Squadron Commander of the squadron they are to join, and are additionally informed by Staff about the requirements of membership. That way we make sure people know what they are signing up for.

If anyone wants to chat about the game or the ACG experience or has questions, he can join the ACG Discord where there are always some people online to help.

What are you looking forward to most in combat flight sims in the near future? Are there new features that ACG is looking to take advantage of in the future?

Kai Lae: For me, anything that expands multiplayer capability would be very exciting. Better netcode, larger server limits, and a mission editor that would be easier to use and not prone to crashing would be a big help. We would like to expand upon the scope and scale of our campaign and having more multiplayer capability would help us greatly in making that easier.

Woop: I would say about the same on this. Anything that could expand the multiplayer experience is something I’m for. Personally I’d love to see a larger number of AI being supported by the game. Other than that, I am waiting for TF 5.0 for Cliffs, but with dwindling eagerness to be honest. The desert map however could see an ACG take place in that Campaign, flying Spits and Hurricanes in the desert would be awesome. I’m dying to represent No. 335 and No. 336 (Greek) Squadrons RAF in an ACG Campaign.

In the ACG world I am very much looking forward to working on the new ACG webpage, which is in development.

Is there anything I left out?

Kai Lae: Only that the best way to see what it is like is to simply come by and see for yourself. If you’re not a member of an existing unit, drop by on Sunday and see if you like it. In my somewhat biased opinion, there’s nothing else like it anywhere that I know of that comes close.

Woop: I would recommend that you come by and fly a Campaign mission with us Shamrock!

Follow up with the Air Combat Group

That about wraps up my Community Q&A with the Air Combat Group. These guys take the organization of their online experience to an incredible level of detail and professionalism as well as with a health dose of enthusiasm and fun. I want to thank ACG_Woop and the rest of the Air Combat Group for reaching out and working with me on this Q&A.

Be sure to check out the Air Combat Group on their website or visit them on the Air Combat Group Facebook page.

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